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Mechanisms Underlying Microbial-Mediated Changes in Social Behavior in Mouse Models of Autism Spectrum Disorder

Sgritta M, Dooling SW, Buffington SA, Francis MB, Britton RA, Costa-Mattioli M (2018) Neuron 2018 Dec;  DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2018.11.018 

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  • Treatment with L. reuteri rescues social deficits in several ASD mouse models
  • L. reuteri reverses social deficits via the vagus nerve
  • L. reuteri reverses social deficits even in germ-free mice
  • OXTR inhibition prevents L. reuteri’s effects on social behavior and VTA plasticity


Currently, there are no medications that effectively treat the core symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). We recently found that the bacterial species Lactobacillus (L.) reuterireverses social deficits in maternal high-fat-diet offspring. However, whether the effect of L. reuteri on social behavior is generalizable to other ASD models and its mechanism(s) of action remains unknown.

Here, we found that treatment withL. reuteri selectively rescues social deficits in genetic, environmental, and idiopathic ASD models. Interestingly, the effects of L. reuteri on social behavior are not mediated by restoring the composition of the host’s gut microbiome, which is altered in all of these ASD models. Instead, L. reuteri acts in a vagus nerve-dependent manner and rescues social interaction-induced synaptic plasticity in the ventral tegmental area of ASD mice, but not in oxytocin receptor-deficient mice.

Collectively, treatment with L. reuteri emerges as promising non-invasive microbial-based avenue to combat ASD-related social dysfunction.


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