Autism and Desulfovibrio Bacteria: A Throw Back Thursday Gem

Today is a throw-back-Thursday.  I pulled out my overstuffed, supersized binder of great research articles I’ve collected over the years and arbitrarily flipped to one to write about.  It dates from 2011, and in this analysis of gut bacteria in children with regressive autism versus controls, the researcher found high levels of Desulfovibrio.[i]  (He also tested normal siblings and found higher than normal levels of this bacteria, but not as high as in the child with autism, suggesting that it is being spread through the family environment.)

My reason for pulling it out to save 7  years ago, according to my notes on the back:

  1. Desulfovibrio, like clostridia, is very hardy and resistant to antibiotic treatment.  Since many children receive antibiotics extensively in infancy and early childhood, this species is able to proliferate at the expense of those good species of bacteria, which more susceptible to antibiotics.
  1. Like clostridia, it produces propionic acid, which is a neurotoxin. (See my post about this here.)
  1. Many kinds of Desulfovibrio produces higher levels than normal of lipopolysaccharides, a known highly inflammatory toxin.
  1. Desulfovirio alters sulfur metabolism which can cause negative changes in the gut barrier, the body’s ability to detoxify and the immune system…all of which are known to be affected in autism.

What struck me as really interesting today:  I did a quick search to see if anyone had replicated the original findings.  Indeed yes, in a review article from 2017, multiple research papers are referenced looking at Desulfovibrio in autism.[ii]

I then clicked on one of these referenced articles that particularly interested me and found this:  “Our results also showed a trend in the incidence of elevated Desulfovibrio spp. in children with autism reaffirmed by a very strong association of the amount of Desulfovibrio spp. with the severity of autism in the Autism Diagnostic Interview (ADI) restricted/repetitive behavior subscale score.”[iii]

That’s just crazy:  the more Desulfovibrio, the greater the severity of restricted and repetitive behaviors?!

So yeah, I was on to something when I saved my 2011 find, right?!


[i] Finegold, SM.  Desulfovibrio species are potentially important in regressive autism.  Medical Hypothesis. 2011. 77(2):270-4.

[ii] Qinrui,l, Ying,h, Dy, ABC, Hagerman, RJ. The Gut Microbiota and Autism Spectrum Disorders. Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience. 217. 1:120.

[iii] Tomova, A, Husarova, V, Lakatosova, S, Bakos, J, Vlkova, B, Babinska, K, Ostatnikova, D. Gastrointestinal microbiota in children with autism in Slovakia. Physiology and Behavior. 2015. 138:179-87.

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