Irish scientists have discovered "strong links" between key bacteria in the gut and behaviours displayed in disorders such as autism.
Professor John F Cryan, from University College Cork's's Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre, said the discovery may mean "way down the road" that scientists could be able to develop some bacterial therapies for autism.
The research, published in the leading international psychiatry journal 'Molecular Psychiatry', showed that gut bacteria are essential for the development of normal social behaviour.
Prof Cryan said the laboratory research on mice showed "a strong link between what is going on in the gut and brain behaviour".
The Cork scientists discovered significant social impairments in mice lacking gut bacteria.
The scientists found this resembled social brain deficits observed in people with disorders such as autism.
Professor Cryan said: "It brings up a lot of issues in relation to whether the bacteria in early life could be programmed appropriately for developing the brain and behaviour normally."