Gastrointestinal Issues Linked to Anxiety and Social Withdrawal for Children with Autism – Neuroscience News

Summary: Researchers found a two-way relationship between internalizing symptoms, social withdrawal, and gastrointestinal problems in children and adolescents on the autism spectrum, reporting that symptoms appear to have a simultaneous impact on each other.

source: University of Missouri Columbia

Children with autism spectrum disorder tend to experience gastrointestinal problems, such as constipation and stomach pain, at a faster rate than their neurotypical peers. Some also experience other internalizing symptoms at the same time, including stress, anxiety, depression, and social withdrawal.

So far, no studies have examined the causal relationship between gastrointestinal symptoms and internalizing symptoms.

A new study from the University of Missouri has found a “two-way” relationship between gastrointestinal problems and internalized symptoms in children and adolescents with autism, meaning that symptoms appear to affect each other simultaneously. The findings could influence future precision medicine research aimed at developing personalized pain relief treatments for people with autism who suffer from gastrointestinal problems.

“Research has shown that gastrointestinal problems are associated with an increased stress response as well as aggression and irritability in some children with autism,” said Brad Ferguson, assistant research professor at the MU School of Health Professions, Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders and the Department of Radiology at the MU School of Medicine.

“This probably happens because some children with autism are unable to verbally communicate their gastrointestinal distress and how they feel in general, which can be extremely frustrating. The goal of our research is to find out what factors are associated with gastrointestinal problems in children. individuals with autism so they can design treatments to help these individuals feel better. “

In the study, Ferguson and his team analyzed health data from more than 620 patients with autism at the MU Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders under the age of 18 who have gastrointestinal problems.

Then, the team looked at the relationship between gastrointestinal problems and internalized symptoms, such as stress, anxiety, depression, and social withdrawal.

Ferguson explained that the findings provide further evidence for the importance of the “gut-brain axis,” or connection between the brain and the digestive tract, in gastrointestinal disorders in individuals with autism.

“Stress signals from the brain can alter the release of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and norepinephrine in the gut that control gastrointestinal motility or the movement of stool through the gut. Stress also affects the balance of bacteria living in the gut, called the microbiota, which can disrupt gastrointestinal functioning, ”Ferguson said.

“The gut then sends signals to the brain and this can, in turn, lead to feelings of anxiety, depression and social withdrawal. The cycle then repeats itself, so new treatments that address signals from both the brain and gut can provide. the greatest benefit to some children with gastrointestinal disorders and autism.

Ferguson said an interdisciplinary team of specialists is needed to help solve this complex problem and develop treatments for the future.

Ferguson collaborates with David Beversdorf, a neurologist at the MU Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders, who also studies gastrointestinal problems in individuals with autism.

This shows a sad boy looking out a window
The findings could influence future precision medicine research aimed at developing personalized pain relief treatments for people with autism who suffer from gastrointestinal problems. The image is in the public domain

In a recent study, Beversdorf, who also holds positions at the MU College of Arts and Science and the MU School of Medicine, helped identify specific RNA biomarkers linked to gastrointestinal problems in children with autism.

“Interestingly, the Beversdorf and colleagues study found relationships between microRNAs that are related to anxious behavior following prolonged stress, as well as depression and gastrointestinal upset, providing some evidence that converges with our behavioral findings,” Ferguson said.

Now, Ferguson and Beversdorf are working together to determine the effects of a stress reliever drug on gastrointestinal problems in a clinical trial.

“I have a great relationship with Beversdorf and the MU Thompson Center Autism Research Core (ARC) which enables our team to quickly move from laboratory results to clinical trials,” said Ferguson.

Ferguson explained that some treatments may work for some individuals with autism but not necessarily for others.

“Our team uses a biomarker-based approach to find which markers in the body are common in those who respond favorably to certain treatments,” said Ferguson.

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“Our goal is ultimately to develop a rapid test that tells us which treatment might work for which subgroups of patients based on their signature of unique biomarkers, including stress markers, gut bacteria composition, genetics, concomitant psychological disorders, or a combination thereof. . That way, we can deliver the right treatments to the right patients at the right time. “

About this ASD research news

Author: Brian Council
source: University of Missouri Columbia
Contact: Brian Council – University of Missouri Columbia
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original research: Close access.
“Two-way relationship between internalizing symptoms and gastrointestinal problems in young people with autism spectrum disorder” by Brad Ferguson et al. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders


Abstract

Bi-directional relationship between internalizing symptoms and gastrointestinal problems in young people with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Many young people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) experience concomitant conditions, such as gastrointestinal (GI) problems and internalizing symptoms. However, the relationship between these concomitant problems is not well understood.

We analyzed parental reports of gastrointestinal problems and internalizing symptoms of 621 young people with ASD using pathway models in a structural equation modeling facility.

The most suitable model was a two-way model in which internalizing symptoms, including withdrawn and anxious behavior, were related to gastrointestinal problems, including constipation, diarrhea, nausea, and stomach pain.

This study provides a better understanding of the relationship between concomitant conditions in young people with ASD and should encourage physicians to consider treating underlying internalizing symptoms or gastrointestinal problems when providing services for individuals with ASD.

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