Gastrointestinal disturbances are commonly reported in children with autism and may be associated with compositional changes in intestinal bacteria. In a previous report, we surveyed intestinal microbiota in ileal and cecal biopsy samples from children with autism and gastrointestinal dysfunction (AUT-GI) and children with only gastrointestinal dysfunction (Control-GI). Our results demonstrated the presence of members of the family Alcaligenaceae in some AUT-GI children, while no Control-GI children had Alcaligenaceae sequences. Here we demonstrate that increased levels of Alcaligenaceae in intestinal biopsy samples from AUT-GI children result from the presence of high levels of members of the genus Sutterella. We also report the first Sutterella-specific PCR assays for detecting, quantitating, and genotyping Sutterella species in biological and environmental samples. Sutterella 16S rRNA gene sequences were found in 12 of 23 AUT-GI children but in none of 9 Control-GI children. Phylogenetic analysis revealed a predominance of either Sutterella wadsworthensis or Sutterella stercoricanis in 11 of the individual Sutterella-positive AUT-GI patients; in one AUT-GI patient, Sutterella sequences were obtained that could not be given a species-level classification based on the 16S rRNA gene sequences of known Sutterella isolates. Western immunoblots revealed plasma IgG or IgM antibody reactivity to Sutterella wadsworthensis antigens in 11 AUT-GI patients, 8 of whom were also PCR positive, indicating the presence of an immune response to Sutterella in some children.
Autism spectrum disorders affect ~1% of the population. Many children with autism have gastrointestinal (GI) disturbances that can complicate clinical management and contribute to behavioral problems. Understanding the molecular and microbial underpinnings of these GI issues is of paramount importance for elucidating pathogenesis, rendering diagnosis, and administering informed treatment. Here we describe an association between high levels of intestinal, mucoepithelial-associated Sutterella species and GI disturbances in children with autism. These findings elevate this little-recognized bacterium to the forefront by demonstrating that Sutterella is a major component of the microbiota in over half of children with autism and gastrointestinal dysfunction (AUT-GI) and is absent in children with only gastrointestinal dysfunction (Control-GI) evaluated in this study. Furthermore, these findings bring into question the role Sutterella plays in the human microbiota in health and disease. With the Sutterella-specific molecular assays described here, some of these questions can begin to be addressed.