FRRB Project 2679742 - Role of the Gut Vascular Barrier and Microbiota in Autism Spectrum Disorders


Name and Surname of PI

Paola Brescia

Project Acronym


Project ID


Host Institution

IRCCS Humanitas Mirasole S.p.a. - Milan

Pathology of Interest


Research Area


Project Start Date

1 October 2021

Project End Date

20 December 2022 (anticipated)


€ 171.473,28

Type of Project



The connection between gut microbiota, immune system and brain development has been suggested by the frequent manifestation in neurological disorders of gut inflammation issues and microbial dysbiosis, often associated with imbalances in the immune system. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a heterogeneous neurodevelopmental disease characterized by impaired social communication, repetitive behaviors and language difficulties. A range of chronic gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms are a common comorbidity in ASD patients, are correlated with autistic symptom severity, and have been associated with both gut microbiota dysbiosis and increased intestinal permeability. This project aims to unravel the role of the intestinal and brain barriers in ASD development during the pre-natal phase and in its behavioral manifestation in adult life. The hypothesis is that environmental factors (i.e. viral infection and altered diet) alter the gut microbiota complexity and the production of neuroactive metabolites, affecting the intestinal barrier integrity in the pregnant mother. As a consequence maternal microbial products are transmitted to the fetus, where they alter the interplay between the intestinal and brain barriers, reaching the brain and affecting its development and functioning. Regardless of the sequence of events leading to a state of dysbiosis in ASD, alterations to the microbial community are likely to affect the bidirectional communication between the gut and brain, due to increased barrier permeability. Designing new targeted therapies to block these mechanism represent the possibility to prevent the onset of this still incurable disease and improve life quality for the patients and their families. Working on this promising and intriguingly project with the help of an outstanding supervisor in the field and a supportive institution will greatly expand my knowledge in the mechanisms playing along gut-brain axis, and help me develop into a leading independent researcher.