The emerging role of a microbiota-gut-brain axis in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) suggests that modulating gut microbial composition may offer a tractable approach to addressing the lifelong challenges of ASD. The aim of this systematic review was to provide an overview and critically evaluate the current evidence on the efficacy and safety of probiotic, prebiotic, synbiotic, and fecal microbiota transplantation therapies for core and co-occurring behavioral symptoms in individuals with ASD.
Comprehensive searches of MEDLINE, EMBASE, Scopus, Web of Science Core Collection, Cochrane Library, and Google Scholar were performed from inception to March 5, 2020, and two update searches were completed on October 25, 2020, and April 22, 2021, respectively. A total of 4306 publications were identified, of which 14 articles met the inclusion criteria. Data were extracted independently by two reviewers using a preconstructed form.
Results of probiotic studies do not confirm the supposed beneficial effect of probiotics on ASD, whereas prebiotics and synbiotic combinations appear to be efficacious in selective behavioral symptoms. Evidence of the efficacy of fecal microbiota transplantation in ASD is still scarce but supports further research. Overall, the current evidence base to suggest beneficial effects of these modalities in ASD is limited and inconclusive. More clinical trials are currently looking at the use of microbial-based therapies in ASD. With a robust double-blind randomized controlled protocol to investigate the efficacy, these trials should provide significant and definitive results.
Lay Summary There is a link between altered gut bacteria and autism spectrum disorder. Some people believe that modulating bacterial composition in the gut may help reduce autism symptoms, but evidence from human studies suggesting beneficial effects of probiotic, prebiotic, and combination thereof as well as fecal transplants in autism spectrum disorder is limited and inconclusive. Current data should not encourage use of these modalities. Further clinical studies are needed.
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