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Pregnancy Timeline by SemestersDevelopmental TimelineFertilizationFirst TrimesterSecond TrimesterThird TrimesterFirst Thin Layer of Skin AppearsEnd of Embryonic PeriodEnd of Embryonic PeriodFemale Reproductive SystemBeginning Cerebral HemispheresA Four Chambered HeartFirst Detectable Brain WavesThe Appearance of SomitesBasic Brain Structure in PlaceHeartbeat can be detectedHeartbeat can be detectedFinger and toe prints appearFinger and toe prints appearFetal sexual organs visibleBrown fat surrounds lymphatic systemBone marrow starts making blood cellsBone marrow starts making blood cellsInner Ear Bones HardenSensory brain waves begin to activateSensory brain waves begin to activateFetal liver is producing blood cellsBrain convolutions beginBrain convolutions beginImmune system beginningWhite fat begins to be madeHead may position into pelvisWhite fat begins to be madePeriod of rapid brain growthFull TermHead may position into pelvisImmune system beginningLungs begin to produce surfactant
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Home | Pregnancy Timeline | News Alerts |News Archive Jun 18, 2015

The brains of mice fed a high glycemic index diet have greater numbers
of activated immune cells called microglia (shown in red and green).
Image Credit: The Salk Institute

 

 






 

 

Low glycemic index diet reduces autism symptoms

Salk researchers find diet recommended for diabetics softens the symptoms of autism in mice.


Bread, cereal and other sugary processed foods cause rapid spikes and subsequent crashes in blood sugar. In contrast, diets made up of vegetables, fruits and whole grains are healthier, in part because they take longer to digest and keep us more even-keeled.


New research in a mouse model of autism showed that such low glycemic index diets, similar to the plans that people with diabetes follow to keep their blood sugar in check, reduced symptoms of the disorder in mice. Although preliminary and not yet tested in humans, the findings, published June 9 in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, might offer clues to understanding one potential cause of autism.


The number of people diagnosed with autism — a spectrum of disorders characterized by social avoidance, repetitive behaviors and difficulty communicating — has risen dramatically over the past two decades for reasons that are unclear.

More people may be diagnosed due to a broader definition of autism and better efforts in diagnosis, but a true increase in the disorder cannot be ruled out, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Lifestyle change is one potential factor out of many possible causes of autism.

'One thing that's driving a lot of general physiological changes in people is changes in the diet,' says the study's corresponding author Pamela Maher, a senior staff scientist in the laboratory of professor David Schubert at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.


In the new study, the Salk scientists used a mouse model of autism — an inbred strain of mouse previously found to display autism-like symptoms — to ask whether lowering the level of dicarbonyl methylglyoxal (a common byproduct of sugar metabolism) could alleviate symptoms of autism in the animals.


The scientists fed pregnant mice either the high or low glycemic index diet and kept their offspring on the same diet after birth and weaning, because their brains are still forming crucial connections.

The researchers then used a battery of behavioral and biochemical tests to study the mice after weaning. The two groups of animals consumed the same number of calories and were identical in weight. But mice that ate a high-glycemic index diet showed all of the expected behavioral symptoms of autism. Their social interactions were impaired, they repeated actions that served no apparent purpose, and they groomed extensively.

The mouse models of autism on a normal lab diet (with a medium glycemic index) are already known to generate fewer new neurons, and some of their existing cells and neuronal connections are abnormal compared with those of normal mice.


Intriguingly, in the new study, the brains of mice modeling autism that were fed the high-glycemic index diet had drastically less doublecortin, a protein indicating newly developing neurons, compared to predisposed mice on the low-glycemic index diet. The deficiency was especially obvious in a part of the brain that controls memory.


In addition, the brains of the mice eating a high-glycemic index diet appeared to have greater numbers of activated microglia, the resident immune cells of the brain. Their brains also expressed more genes associated with inflammation, compared to the mice fed the low-glycemic index diet.

Other studies of human mothers and their children with autism have implicated the activation of the immune system. For the most part, these studies have focused on infection, which causes a bout of inflammation — as opposed to a high-glycemic index diet, which causes chronic, low-level inflammation, Maher says.


The new study found that diet might directly influence the ecosystem of bacteria in the gut. More complex starches are broken down by bacteria that live in the large intestine. The group detected large amounts of metabolites that could only have come from animals fed a high-glycemic index diet.


We were really surprised when we found molecules in the blood that others had reported could only be generated by gut bacteria,' Maher says. 'There were big differences in some of these compounds between the two diets.'

The group plans to analyze gut bacteria, and its potential link with features of autism, more directly. They also hope to better understand the role of inflammation in the ability to generate new neurons.

Lastly, they plan to vary the timing of exposure to the various diets in the mouse model of autism by giving pregnant mice a high-glycemic index diet, for example, and then keeping their pups on a normal diet.

Abstract
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder of unknown etiology, but very likely resulting from both genetic and environmental factors. There is good evidence for immune system dysregulation in individuals with ASD. However, the contribution of insults such as dietary factors that can also activate the immune system have not been explored in the context of ASD. In this paper, we show that the dietary glycemic index has a significant impact on the ASD phenotype. By using BTBR mice, an inbred strain that displays behavioral traits that reflect the diagnostic symptoms of human ASD, we found that the diet modulates plasma metabolites, neuroinflammation and brain markers of neurogenesis in a manner that is highly reflective of ASD in humans. Overall, the manuscript supports the idea that ASD results from gene–environment interactions and that in the presence of a genetic predisposition to ASD, diet can make a large difference in the expression of the condition.

Other authors on the study were Antonio Currais, Catherine Farrokhi, Richard Dargusch and Marie Goujon-Svrzic, of the Salk Institute.

The research was supported by the Fritz B. Burns Foundation.

About the Salk Institute for Biological Studies
The Salk Institute for Biological Studies is one of the world's preeminent basic research institutions, where internationally renowned faculty probes fundamental life science questions in a unique, collaborative and creative environment. Focused both on discovery and on mentoring future generations of researchers, Salk scientists make groundbreaking contributions to our understanding of cancer, aging, Alzheimer's, diabetes and infectious diseases by studying neuroscience, genetics, cell and plant biology, and related disciplines.
Faculty achievements have been recognized with numerous honors, including Nobel Prizes and memberships in the National Academy of Sciences. Founded in 1960 by polio vaccine pioneer Jonas Salk, MD, the Institute is an independent nonprofit organization and architectural landmark

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