Functional contribution of the intestinal microbiome in autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and Rett syndrome: a systematic review of pediatric and adult studies

Valentina Caputi, Lee Hill, Melanie Figueiredo, Jelena Popov, Emily Hartung, Kara Gross Margolis, Kanish Baskaran, Papiha Joharapurkar, Michal Moshkovich, Nikhil Pai

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Introduction: Critical phases of neurodevelopment and gut microbiota diversification occur in early life and both processes are impacted by genetic and environmental factors. Recent studies have shown the presence of gut microbiota alterations in neurodevelopmental disorders. Here we performed a systematic review of alterations of the intestinal microbiota composition and function in pediatric and adult patients affected by autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and Rett syndrome (RETT). Methods: We searched selected keywords in the online databases of PubMed, Cochrane, and OVID (January 1980 to December 2021) with secondary review of references of eligible articles. Two reviewers independently performed critical appraisals on the included articles using the Critical Appraisal Skills Program for each study design. Results: Our systematic review identified 18, 7, and 3 original articles describing intestinal microbiota profiles in ASD, ADHD, and RETT, respectively. Decreased Firmicutes and increased Bacteroidetes were observed in the gut microbiota of individuals affected by ASD and ADHD. Proinflammatory cytokines, short-chain fatty acids and neurotransmitter levels were altered in ASD and RETT. Constipation and visceral pain were related to changes in the gut microbiota in patients affected by ASD and RETT. Hyperactivity and impulsivity were negatively correlated with Faecalibacterium (phylum Firmicutes) and positively correlated with Bacteroides sp. (phylum Bacteroidetes) in ADHD subjects. Five studies explored microbiota-or diet-targeted interventions in ASD and ADHD. Probiotic treatments with Lactobacillus sp. and fecal microbiota transplantation from healthy donors reduced constipation and ameliorated ASD symptoms in affected children. Perinatal administration of Lactobacillus sp. prevented the onset of Asperger and ADHD symptoms in adolescence. Micronutrient supplementation improved disease symptomatology in ADHD without causing significant changes in microbiota communities’ composition. Discussion: Several discrepancies were found among the included studies, primarily due to sample size, variations in dietary practices, and a high prevalence of functional gastrointestinal symptoms. Further studies employing longitudinal study designs, larger sample sizes and multi-omics technologies are warranted to identify the functional contribution of the intestinal microbiota in developmental trajectories of the human brain and neurobehavior. Systematic review registration:, CRD42020158734.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1341656
JournalFrontiers in Neuroscience
StatePublished - 2024


  • Rett syndrome
  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • autism spectrum disorder
  • children
  • metabolites
  • microbiota
  • neurodevelopment
  • pediatric

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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