Autism spectrum disorders and the gastrointestinal tract: insights into mechanisms and clinical relevance

Lin Y. Hung, Kara Gross Margolis

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are recognized as central neurodevelopmental disorders diagnosed by impairments in social interactions, communication and repetitive behaviours. The recognition of ASD as a central nervous system (CNS)-mediated neurobehavioural disorder has led most of the research in ASD to be focused on the CNS. However, gastrointestinal function is also likely to be affected owing to the neural mechanistic nature of ASD and the nervous system in the gastrointestinal tract (enteric nervous system). Thus, it is unsurprising that gastrointestinal disorders, particularly constipation, diarrhoea and abdominal pain, are highly comorbid in individuals with ASD. Gastrointestinal problems have also been repeatedly associated with increased severity of the core symptoms diagnostic of ASD and other centrally mediated comorbid conditions, including psychiatric issues, irritability, rigid–compulsive behaviours and aggression. Despite the high prevalence of gastrointestinal dysfunction in ASD and its associated behavioural comorbidities, the specific links between these two conditions have not been clearly delineated, and current data linking ASD to gastrointestinal dysfunction have not been extensively reviewed. This Review outlines the established and emerging clinical and preclinical evidence that emphasizes the gut as a novel mechanistic and potential therapeutic target for individuals with ASD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)142-163
Number of pages22
JournalNature Reviews Gastroenterology and Hepatology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Hepatology
  • Gastroenterology


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