The number of kids being diagnosed with autism is rising and with that, the need to find the cause is important.
UCF researchers are looking at how the food women at while pregnant could affect the fetus' developing brain.
Drs. Saleh Naser, Latifa Abdelli and research assistant Aseela Samsam have identified the molecular changes that happen when stem cells are exposed to acid that is in processed foods.
According to a study, which was published in Scientific Reports, it was discovered how high levels of Propionic Acid (PPA), used in processed foods reduce the development of neurons in fetal brains.
Propionic acid is used to keep packaged food fresh for longer and stop mould in commercially processed cheese and bread.
Dr. Naser thought that there was a link between the gut and the brain so he looked at how gut bacteria were different between people with autism and those who do not have the condition.
He said, ''Studies have shown a higher level of PPA in stool samples from children with autism and the gut microbiome in autistic children is different.''
He continued, ''I wanted to know what the underlying cause was."
Scientists found exposing neural stem cells to lots of PPA damages brain cells in a few ways and it also causes inflammation, which has been said to be in the brains of autistic children.
So, fewer neurons and damaged pathways affect the brain's ability to communicate, resulting in behaviours that are often found in children with autism.
These include repetitive behaviour mobility issues and inability to interact with others.
While more research has to be done before conclusions can be drawn,scientists think that this research is a stepping stone in the right direction to understand Autism Spectrum Disorder.