Thursday, 24 June 2021

Betaine (TMG) and Gene Therapy as potential alternatives to Bumetanide Treatment in Autism?

Betaine (also known as TMG, or trimethylglycine) is a methyl derivative of glycine, first isolated from sugar beet and hence its name.

Today’s post was prompted by our reader, and Covid home-school instructor, AJ.  He raised the question of whether betaine can be used like Bumetanide to normalize chloride levels in neurons.

I am combing this idea with news from Genoa in Italy, where they have developed gene therapy as an alternative to Bumetanide and in their words :-

“This sets the stage for the development of a gene therapy approach to overcome the shortcomings of bumetanide treatment.”

The interesting thing is that neither of these ideas come from autism research.  The idea to use Betaine was stumbled upon and was then written up in a Norwegian case study about Creatine transporter deficiency.  The Italians are trying to improve cognition in brain disorders and their model of choice was Down syndrome. 

As we have seen time and again, elevated chloride within neurons is a common feature of many types of brain disorders from some idiopathic autism, to Down syndrome, to adult conditions such as Parkinson’s disease.  Today we learn that it is may well be a feature of Creatine Transporter Deficiency.

I have been rather wary of writing about any kind of gene therapy, because it seemed either too far ahead of its time, or just absurdly expensive.  There are some new $1+ million treatments.

This may be about to change given that the Biontech (AKA Pfizer vaccine), Moderna, Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) and Oxford AstraZeneca vaccines for Covid 19 are all based on gene therapy.

The Biontech people are really clever and were already trying to treat various kinds of cancer and other condition using gene therapy, before they developed their highly successful Covid vaccine.

The Italians in Genoa used an adeno-associated virus (AAV)-mediated RNA interference (RNAi) to target and reduce neuronal NKCC1 expression, rescue neuronal Cl-  homeostasis, GABAergic transmission, and cognitive deficits.   The benefit was still there 6 months after the injection.

Don’t worry if the above paragraph makes little sense. Just read on.

The same type of adeno-associated virus (AAV) vector is the platform for gene therapy delivery used in the Astra Zeneca, Janssen and the Russian Sputnik covid vaccines.

The virus is just the delivery system (vector) to get some genetic code into cells.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine uses a chimpanzee adenoviral vector. It delivers the gene that encodes the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, to our cells.  Our cells then transcribe this gene into messenger RNA, or mRNA, which in turn prompts our cellular machine to make the spike protein in the main body of the cell. The mRNA molecule behaves essentially like a recipe.  Then our cells present the spike protein on the cell surface, prompting our immune system to make antibodies and mount T cell responses.

Biontech and Moderna are pioneers of mRNA vaccines, which bypass one step in the above process. They do not require our cells to make the messenger RNA, or mRNA.  They have already made it for you.


Gene therapy for autism?

Single gene autisms are all potential candidates for gene therapy.

The problem is that most autism and all Down syndrome is polygenic, there can be hundreds of miss-expressed genes.

But the researchers in Italy show us that even polygenic autism and Down syndrome can benefit from therapy targeting a single gene.  You just have to select the right one.

The problem is the price. Covid vaccines are made in huge quantities and are cheap.

Customized gene therapy is ultra expensive, in part because each therapy has to be approved individually.


An NKCC1 Gene Therapy?

The Italians have already made the NKCC1 Gene Therapy.  The question is will it ever going be available to humans with Down Syndrome, Autism or even Parkinson’s disease?

Restoring neuronal chloride homeostasis with anti-NKCC1 gene therapy rescues cognitive deficits in a mouse model of Down syndrome

A common feature of diverse brain disorders, is the alteration of GABA-mediated inhibition due to aberrant intracellular chloride homeostasis induced by changes in the expression and/or function of chloride transporters. Notably, pharmacological inhibition of the chloride importer NKCC1 is able to rescue brain-related core deficits in animal models of these pathologies and some human clinical studies. Here, we show that reducing NKCC1 expression by RNA interference in the Ts65Dn mouse model of Down syndrome (DS) restores intracellular chloride concentration, efficacy of GABA-mediated inhibition and neuronal network dynamics in vitro and ex vivo. Importantly, AAV-mediated neuron-specific NKCC1 knockdown in vivo rescues cognitive deficits in diverse behavioral tasks in Ts65Dn animals. Our results highlight a mechanistic link between NKCC1 expression and behavioral abnormalities in DS mice, and establish a molecular target for new therapeutic approaches, including gene therapy, to treat brain disorders characterized by neuronal chloride imbalance.


This sets the stage for the development of a gene therapy approach to overcome the shortcomings of bumetanide treatment.

This highlights a causative role of NKCC1 upregulation in learning and memory deficits in adult Ts65Dn mice, thus also validating brain NKCC1 as a target for ameliorating cognitive disabilities in DS. Furthermore, our neuro-specific knockdown approach points to neurons as major players in the NKCC1- dependent cognitive impairment in DS mice. Nevertheless, we cannot exclude that other cell types which also express NKCC1 (e.g. glial cells) could still play a role in the overall cognitive impairment that characterizes DS.

Despite the very large and fast-increasing literature both on animal models and patients indicating positive outcomes upon bumetanide treatment, there is not yet a strong demonstrated direct link between NKCC1 inhibition, restoration of Cl- homeostasis and full GABAergic inhibitory signaling, and rescue of brain deficits.  Moreover, bumetanide has strong diuretic activity, triggering ionic imbalance, and potential ototoxicity 25,26.  This hampers its use for clinical applications in lifelong treatments4,27 and may strongly jeopardize treatment compliance along years of treatment.  Moreover, bumetanide was given systemically in most studies, and the suboptimal brain pharmacokinetic profile of the drug28 raises questions on its mechanism of action29.  Here, we demonstrate that adeno-associated virus (AAV)-mediated RNA interference (RNAi) to target (and reduce) neuronal NKCC1 expression rescues neuronal Cl- homeostasis, GABAergic transmission, and cognitive deficits in the Ts65Dn mouse model of Down syndrome. This sets the stage for the development of a gene therapy approach to overcome the shortcomings of bumetanide treatment.


“Thus, our results indicate the efficacy of long-term AAV9-mediated neuro-specific NKCC1 knockdown in rescuing cognitive deficits in Ts65Dn mice.”


“Besides establishing a causal link between NKCC1 upregulation and cognitive impairment in DS, our data also provide a proof-of-concept for a neuro-specific RNAi gene therapy approach to restore hippocampus-dependent cognitive behaviors in adult animals specifically in the brain, and without affecting peripheral organs (e.g., the kidney). This is particularly relevant in the context of the current clinical trials repurposing the strong diuretic bumetanide to treat brain disorders with impaired chloride homeostasis3.  Importantly, we achieved a comparable degree of long-term cognitive rescue with two different amiR sequences against NKCC1, underlining the specificity of our approach.”


Gone Fishing

If a trip to Italy for gene therapy is not realistic, this takes us back to AJ’s idea, which is to use Betaine.  The correct version is TMG or glycine betaine, and confusingly not Betaine HCl.

Fish love the taste of betaine.

Betaine was first isolated from sugar beet.

I recall from my time at the sugar factory, when I was 18, that once you have sliced up the sugar beet and extracted as much sugar as possible you are left with the pulp.  This pulp is dried, molasses is added back and then it is made into pellets.  The pellets are fed to cattle and horses.  They taste pretty bad in my opinion.

To humans it tastes bad because of the beet molasses by-product.

The molasses by-product from sugar cane tastes great to humans.  That is why they make rum in the Caribbean, and not in England or Canada.

Brown sugar from a sugar beet factory is made by adding sugar cane molasses to white sugar from beet.  It is a cheat really.

Cows love sugar beet by-products.

It turns out that fish love betaine HCl.

Betaine HCl is an excellent natural attractor that stimulates a strong, prolonged feeding response from carp and many other coarse fish.

Betaine HCl is now used to induce feeding in the fish farming industry

As our reader Tyler has highlighted, Betaine HCl, that fish like and is available is a cheap supplement is not the same as the Betaine used in the medical case study. Confusingly, the original Betaine (TMG, or called glycine betaine) gave way to a class of compounds all called betaines. One of these betaines is betaine HCL.

In most cases, in the medical literature when they refer to Betaine, they mean glycine betaine, also known as TMG.

Betaine HCl is used to increase acidity in your stomach. The effect of betaine compounds other than glycine betaine/TMG on NKCC1 is unknown.

Glycine Betaine (TMG) and NKCC1

It seems that betaine reduces your level of NKCC1 RNA. 

In your DNA are the instructions to make the NKCC1 transporter. To go from these instructions to actually making the transporters you need RNA.

In some autism there are too many NKCC1 transporters, so put simply there was too much NKCC1 RNA. So, if you can find a substance that reduces NKCC1 RNA, you might well solve the problem.

The caveat is that the substance must not also increase KCC2 RNA.  This appears to be what taurine does.

Here, finally, is AJ’s paper:

Treatment experience in two adults with creatine transporter deficiency


Creatine transporter deficiency (CTD) is an X-linked form of intellectual disability (ID) caused by SCL6A8 mutations. Limited information exists on the adult course of CTD, and there are no treatment studies in adults.


We report two half-brothers with CTD, 36 and 31 years at intervention start. Their clinical phenotypes were consistent with CTD, and intervention was indicated because of progressive disease course, with increased difficulties speaking, walking and eating, resulting in fatigue, and malnutrition. We therefore performed treatment trials with arginine, glycine and a proprietary product containing creatine and betaine, and then a trial supplementing with betaine alone. Results In the older patient, glycine and arginine were accompanied by adverse effects, while betaine containing proprietary product gave improved balance, speech and feeding. When supplementation stopped, his condition deteriorated, and improved again after starting betaine supplement. Betaine supplementation was also beneficial in the younger patient, reducing his exhaustion, feeding difficulties and weight loss, making him able to resume his protected work.

Discussion & conclusion

We report for the first time that betaine supplement was well tolerated and efficient in adults with CTD, while arginine and/or glycine were accompanied by side effects. Thus, betaine is potentially a new useful treatment for CTD patients. We discuss possible underlying treatment mechanisms. Betaine has been reported to have antagonistic effect on NKCC1 channels, a mechanism shared with bumetanide, a medication with promising results in both in autism and epilepsy. Further studies of betaine's effects in well-designed studies are warranted.


The mechanism of betaine’s assumed favorable effect is unknown. We do not know whether betaine influences the cell creatine content in itself or its effects are more aspesific. However, we would like to present some hypotheses. First, betaine may have effect in CTD by modulating GABA-transmission. Betaine has been reported to have an antagonistic effect on NKCC1 channels, which also influences GABAergic neurotransmission. Inhibiting NKCC1 is a mechanism shared with bumetanide, a well-known diuretic medication that in recent years has been found to influence GABAergic transmission, and thereby it has been found promising in treatment of several brain conditions, including autism, and epilepsy. NKCC1 inhibition by bumetanide has also been tried with success in other rare neurodevelopmental disorders fragile X syndrome and tuberous sclerosis. Second, betaine’s properties as an osmolyte may be of importance, as betaine has similarities with creatine in being an osmolyte. Osmotic properties are thought to be one of the central mechanism behind bumetanide’s efficacy in treating brain disorders. Thus, it could be speculated that the lack of intracellular creatine in CTD may result in inefficient osmolyte regulation, and that betaine supplementation replaces the lacking creatine and thereby improves the neuronal adaption to salinity changes, edema or cellular dehydration. Betaine has osmolyte properties that even makes it act as a “chemical chaperone” increasing the stability of cell and membrane proteins. Fourth, it is possible that betaine has some effect through modifying methylation. Methylation of GAA by GAMT to form creatine is a rate-limiting step in the creatine synthesis by neurons. Betaine could stimulate this by donating methyl groups to SAMe, which donates a methyl group to GAA to form creatine. This might reduce the burden when body demands more methyl groups for creatine synthesis. Similar mechanisms may be responsible for a beneficial effect of both betaine and s-adenosyl methionine (SAMe). However, as creatine and GAA share the same transporter, one would not expect GAA to enter the GAMTexpressing cells in patients suffering from CTD. Still, it cannot be excluded that there is some rest function in the creatine transporter, and that increased endogenous synthesis improves the condition slightly. Furthermore, it is possible that CTD increases the need for methylation agents in general, as creatine supplementation has been found to reduce the need for other methylation agents [34]. Thus, it is likely that betaine may have a positive effect in CTD by improving methylation capacity for other reactions than those directly involved in creatine production. Betaine’s effect on muscle may be also of importance, as animal studies have shown that muscles growth improves with betaine [35], which potentially could have had a positive impact on our patients fatigue and weight loss. To summarize, betaine has several properties that make it likely that it will have a beneficial effect in CTD, especially the properties as an osmolyte, a down regulator of the NKCC1 channel and an influencer of GABAergic transmission. These properties are similar to the properties of bumetanide, a promising new medication for treatment of autism and epilepsy, which are common symptoms of CTD. Further research is needed, however, to elucidate the role of betaine in CTD.

If you read the detail of the old paper that is referred to in the above paper, you see that betaine is not blocking the NKCC1 channels as suggested, but it seems to be reducing the number of them.  The net effect may be the same, but the process is very different.


Expression and regulation of the Na+/K+/2Cl− cotransporter NKCC1 in rat liver and human HuH-7 hepatoma cells

The expression of sodium potassium chloride cotransporter 1 (NKCC1) was studied in different liver cell types. NKCC1 was found in rat liver parenchymal and sinusoidal endothelial cells and in human HuH-7 hepatoma cells. NKCC1 expression in rat hepatic stellate cells increased during culture-induced transformation in the myofibroblast-like phenotype. NKCC1 inhibition by bumetanide increased α1-smooth muscle actin expression in 2-day-cultured hepatic stellate cells but was without effect on basal and platelet-derived-growth-factor-induced proliferation of the 14-day-old cells. In perfused rat liver the NKCC1 made a major contribution to volume-regulatory K+ uptake induced by hyperosmolarity. Long-term hyperosmotic treatment of HuH-7 cells by elevation of extracellular NaCl or raffinose concentration but not hyperosmotic urea or mannitol profoundly induced NKCC1 mRNA and protein expression. This was antagonized by the compatible organic osmolytes betaine or taurine. The data suggest a role of NKCC1 in stellate cell transformation, hepatic volume regulation, and long-term adaption to dehydrating conditions.


Aha!  Glycine Betaine and Taurine – not so fast 

You have to check the effect on both NKCC1 and KCC2.  One lets chloride into neurons and the lets it out.  You want to block NKCC1 and not KCC2, otherwise you undo all the good you have done.

Both glycine betaine (TMG) and taurine are already used as autism supplements at low doses.  The paper below suggest that Taurine is not a good idea for people with high levels of chloride within neurons.


Taurine inhibits K+-Cl- cotransporter KCC2 to regulate embryonic Cl- homeostasis via with-no-lysine (WNK) protein kinase signaling pathway

GABA inhibits mature neurons and conversely excites immature neurons due to lower K(+)-Cl(-) cotransporter 2 (KCC2) expression. We observed that ectopically expressed KCC2 in embryonic cerebral cortices was not active; however, KCC2 functioned in newborns. In vitro studies revealed that taurine increased KCC2 inactivation in a phosphorylation-dependent manner. When Thr-906 and Thr-1007 residues in KCC2 were substituted with Ala (KCC2T906A/T1007A), KCC2 activity was facilitated, and the inhibitory effect of taurine was not observed. Exogenous taurine activated the with-no-lysine protein kinase 1 (WNK1) and downstream STE20/SPS1-related proline/alanine-rich kinase (SPAK)/oxidative stress response 1 (OSR1), and overexpression of active WNK1 resulted in KCC2 inhibition in the absence of taurine. Phosphorylation of SPAK was consistently higher in embryonic brains compared with that of neonatal brains and down-regulated by a taurine transporter inhibitor in vivo. Furthermore, cerebral radial migration was perturbed by a taurine-insensitive form of KCC2, KCC2T906A/T1007A, which may be regulated by WNK-SPAK/OSR1 signaling. Thus, taurine and WNK-SPAK/OSR1 signaling may contribute to embryonic neuronal Cl(-) homeostasis, which is required for normal brain development.


So, it is likely only Glycine Betaine (TMG) may be of potential benefit, in the case of lowering chloride.


Glycine Betaine in the broader research


Betaine in Inflammation: Mechanistic Aspects and Applications

Betaine is known as trimethylglycine and is widely distributed in animals, plants, and microorganisms. Betaine is known to function physiologically as an important osmoprotectant and methyl group donor. Accumulating evidence has shown that betaine has anti-inflammatory functions in numerous diseases. Mechanistically, betaine ameliorates sulfur amino acid metabolism against oxidative stress, inhibits nuclear factor-κB activity and NLRP3 inflammasome activation, regulates energy metabolism, and mitigates endoplasmic reticulum stress and apoptosis. Consequently, betaine has beneficial actions in several human diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.


Betaine is a stable and nontoxic natural substance. Because it looks like a glycine with three extra methyl groups, betaine is also called trimethylglycine . In addition, betaine has a zwitterionic quaternary ammonium form [(CH3)3N+ CH2COO−] (Figure 1). In the nineteenth century, betaine was first identified in the plant Beta vulgaris. It was then found at high concentrations in several other organisms, including wheat bran, wheat germ, spinach, beets, microorganisms, and aquatic invertebrates. Dietary betaine intake plays a decisive role in the betaine content of the body. Betaine is safe at a daily intake of 9–15 g for human and distributes primarily to the kidneys, liver, and brain. The accurate amount of betaine intake generally relies on its various sources and cooking methods. Besides dietary intake, betaine can be synthesized from choline in the body. Studies report that high concentrations of betaine in human and animal neonates indicate the effectiveness of this synthetic mechanism.


Boosting amino acid derivative may be a treatment for schizophrenia

Many psychiatric drugs act on the receptors or transporters of certain neurotransmitters in the brain. However, there is a great need for alternatives, and research is looking at other targets along the brain's metabolic pathways. Lack of glycine betaine contributes to brain pathology in schizophrenia, and new research shows that betaine supplementation can counteract psychiatric symptoms in mice.



Supplement treats schizophrenia in mice, restores healthy “dance” and structure of neurons Repurposed drug works by building cells’ skeleton and transportation network




Early on in the Covid saga, I saw interviews with both the Moderna researchers and the Oxford (AstraZeneca) researchers. Both claimed that they designed their vaccines over a weekend.  This was made possible by the Chinese releasing the DNA code of the virus.

When you think about gene therapy for autism and Down syndrome, the same likely applies; much could be achieved over a weekend.

The expensive and time-consuming part is the testing and approval process.

In the Covid pandemic the approval process was modified to allow for emergency use.  Perhaps this should also be the case for all gene therapies?

What use is a $2 million therapy for autism or Down syndrome?

In theory, if you gave your gene therapy prior to birth or shortly thereafter, it might be fully curative.  Realistically, by the time you get the therapy it is just going to be beneficial and you will still need other ongoing therapies.

Note that gene therapy normally applies to just one gene.  In Down syndrome people have a third copy of all, or just part, of Chromosome 21.  This results directly in the miss-expression of hundreds of genes from that chromosome.

The gene that encodes NKCC1 is on Chromosome 5, which has nothing directly to do with Down syndrome.

The NKCC1 transporter is over-expressed in Down syndrome as a down stream consequence of the disorder. It is caused by the “faulty GABA switch”, referred to in earlier posts.

The Italian gene therapy to lower chloride in neurons and so raise cognition, has numerous applications, in people currently of all ages, so there is a big potential market.

Why not gene therapy for all single gene autisms?  It could be a highly productive use of the researcher’s weekends, for a year or two.

The issue is who would pay for the $20 to $30 million approval process, for each gene?

Maybe some of the billions in profit from clever Covid vaccines could be used for pro bono gene therapy?  Highly unlikely.

Biontech, who are the brains behind the Pfizer vaccine, do have plans to develop gene therapy for other medical conditions.  I think these will be ultra expensive,

That brings me back to Glycine Betaine (TMG), is 10g a day of this supplement really going to reduce the expression of NKCC1 transporters in neurons and so lower chloride within neurons?  It seems to work in creatine transporter deficiency, is all we can say.  

Glycine betaine, at much lower doses, has been used by DAN and now MAPS doctors for decades. They use it as a “methyl-donor”.  There is a combination of real science and hocus-pocus surrounding DNA methylation. 

 DNA Methylation and Susceptibility to Autism Spectrum Disorder




Friday, 11 June 2021

Game Changer or Fine Tuning? It depends on severity of Autism


There are so many possible autism interventions discussed in this blog, it clearly is not always easy to know their relative merit.

There are so many people now diagnosed with autism it is no longer such a meaningful term.  The most extreme autism I think I will have to start calling really severe autism.  A scale of 1 to 100 would be much more helpful than the current levels 1, 2 or 3. I suppose Elon Musk and Greta are level 1.

One reader did recent describe the effects of bumetanide in his child as being game changing.  I think it is an excellent description to use.  For our reader Roger, Leucovorin was a game changer.

Another reader wrote to me to give an update about his three year old

“After 3 months of bumetanide treatment I've seen improvement on his cognition, like, he is now able to finish an apple and take the end to the trash by himself or enter in his room, turn the lights on, take some toy, turn lights off and close the door or eat his lunch by himself. He is smarter now.”

This reader is well on his way to finding the additional elements for his son’s personalized polytherapy and the way he is going about it is likely to yield optimal results. Most of what you need is tucked away in this blog somewhere.  It is a case of who dares wins.

Using my scale of 1 to 100, with Elon and Greta in low single digits and many people referred to at the blog of the US National Council of Severe Autism mainly at 80-100, we can put interventions into a bit more perspective.

It is still far from perfect because most people with really severe autism reach a plateau in development at a very young age.  This matters because as a three year old they do not look/behave so differently to a typical child, but by the time they reach 18 years old, the difference is gigantic.

If you could delay the onset of this developmental plateau for a decade the result would be transformative.  Based on the longitudinal studies to adulthood, it looks like about 80% of severe autism reaches a plateau at the level of a 2-3 year old.  The other 20% continue to learn, but at a slower rate than typical children. 

In the case of the autism which is <10, like Greta and Elon, very small issues can still become very troubling.  There was inevitably bullying at school from mild to severe, there likely was (and still is) anxiety, perhaps an eating disorder, perhaps some self harming or even suicidal thoughts.

If you fine tune the brain a little to reduce anxiety and improve social/emotional responsiveness, you can trim someone’s score from a 15 to a 9 and make them feel much better.  Job done.

For someone with an IQ of 50 (i.e. severe intellectual disability), non-verbal, non-literate, who is sometimes aggressive and exhibits autistic behaviors, you are going to need much more than fine tuning, you need a game changer.  Then you can go on and fine tune things to give further incremental improvement.

One doctor reader did suggest to me that, in effect, five moderately effective interventions might equal one game changer.

In the case of autism that I deal with, the most important step was raising cognitive function, not treating what people consider to be autism.  I think that this applies to almost all people with a score 50 to 100.  Even if it was never actually diagnosed, the barrier to progress is low cognitive function and a severely reduced ability to learn and acquire new skills.  This has to be fixed and for many people the tools already exist.


Improving cognitive function

Game Changer

·      Bumetanide  (also Azosemide, KBr and, possibly, Betaine with the same effect of lowering chloride inside neurons)

Fine tuning

·      Atorvastatin, reducing cognitive inhibition

·      Micro-dose Clonazepam, shift E/I imbalance

·      Low-dose Roflumilast, raising IQ


Reducing autistic behaviors

Fine tuning

·      NAC

·      Sulforaphane

·      Verapamil

·      Oxytocin

·      BHB

·      Pentoxifylline

·      Agmatine

·      Clemastine

·      DMF

·      Leucovorin (Calcium Folinate)


Interventions with a slow course of action

Some interventions, for example pro-myelinating therapies (like clemastine and Tyler’s N-acetylglucosamine), or pro-autophagy therapies, may take a long time to show effect. I think you may need to first see very tangible results from other therapies, which are much easier to assess.

As Roger will want to point out, in the case of Cerebral Folate Deficiency Leucovorin was the game changer.

In the case of other metabolic autisms, a single therapy may also be the game changer, like the Greek boy for whom high dose biotin resolved his previously severe autism.

In the case of Fragile-X, there seem to be potential game changers galore.  The latest is plugging the leaky membrane in mitochondria that is allowing ATP to leak out, using a research drug dexpramipexole, or potentially the related and already approved variant Mirapex ER (pramipexole).  Mirapex is used to treat the symptoms of Parkinson Disease and Restless Legs Syndrome. 

If our occasional reader and bio-statistician Knut Wittkowski is correct, Mefenamic Acid (the NSAID Ponstan) could be a real game changer, if taken around 2-3 years of age.  He suggests this will block the progression to severe non-verbal autism. Knut has been upsetting YouTube with some of his interviews about Covid-19 and his deal with Q-Biomed to develop Mefenamic Acid fell through. You can buy Ponstan very cheaply, outside of the US, even as a pediatric syrup.

Hopefully, Dr Naviaux's Suramin will be a game changer for some.  More of that in the coming post on leaky ATP.


I am told where we live that Monty’s autism is “fixed”, or by one autism Grandad we know, “he’s 80% fixed”.

If you started life with (really) severe autism, even 80% fixed means you are still pretty autistic, much more so than Elon and Greta, but far less so than the now adult “children” over at the National Council for Severe Autism, who have really severe autism and often had a very early plateau in development.

Monty has finished his year-end exams.  Overall, the grades of his NT classmates are pretty terrible, maybe due to Covid disruptions.  I told Monty’s assistant that if he can come somewhere in the middle, without her doing the tests for him or having extra time, that is a great result, regardless of the grade itself.  In all his subjects he comes in the middle. In the English educational system, Monty is now a C student, maybe even with the odd B or D; so not something to boast about.  What really is amazing  is this person could not figure out  9 – 2 = 7,  at the age of 9 years old, prior to starting bumetanide and his Polypill therapy.  Now he is nearly 18 years old.

If you find that your young child is a genuine bumetanide responder, but later struggle to source it, take a close look at what untreated severe autism looks like by adulthood.  Then you may choose to redouble your efforts to get hold of your game changer. Some readers are getting it from Egypt, Pakistan, Nigeria, China, Austria and many from Mexico and Spain.  In Brazil you can buy it only in a compounding pharmacy. The lucky ones get it at their local pharmacy, which is what should be possible for everyone and one day that might even happen.

There are countless fine-tuning therapies that may be potentially effective in a particular person.  They are certainly worth having; you just have to look at what is available and cost effective.

There will soon be a post about leaky ATP in Fragile X and autism.

Two readers have highlighted the research suggesting that Betaine might have a similar effect to Bumetanide.  It does not block the NKCC1 transporter, but it may reduce the mRNA that produces them, so the net effect may potentially be similar.  At much lower doses, Betaine is a common autism supplement.  This will be covered in the next post.


Tuesday, 1 June 2021

Update on Roflumilast/Daxas as a PDE4 inhibitor for Autism


There is already quite a lot in this blog about using a PDE (Phosphodiesterase) inhibitor to potentially treat autism.

Readers might have seen the recent article below, in which a PDE-4D inhibitor raised cognition in adults with Fragile-X.

Drug boosts cognition in men with fragile X syndrome 

The study drug, BPN14770, is developed by Tetra Therapeutics, a clinical-stage biotechnology company in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It blocks the activity of phosphodiesterase-4D, an enzyme in the brain that degrades cyclic AMP. In a mouse model of fragile X, BPN14770 increased cyclic AMP and eased several fragile-X-related traits.


For the new work, 30 men with fragile X participated in a 24-week double-blind crossover study of the drug. The researchers randomly assigned each man to one of two treatment sequences: 12 weeks on the drug followed by 12 weeks on a placebo, or 12 weeks of placebo crossing over to 12 weeks on the drug. Researchers assessed all of the participants at the start of the study and during week 6 and week 12 of each trial sequence. They also asked parents and caregivers to rate changes in the men’s language, daily function and anxiety.

The treatment produced “significant improvement in the language and daily function measures that the families were rating, in conjunction with improvement on this objective test [NIH Toolbox] that’s very hard to have a placebo effect on,” says Elizabeth Berry-Kravis, professor of child neurology at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois, who led the study.


Later on in the post is the science, which it does help to read. if you want apply it.

The research drug BPN14770 used in the Fragile-X trial is not something you can buy at the pharmacy, but there are PDE inhibitors available today.

I have written a post recently about the use of Pentoxifylline, which is a very cheap drug that is not selective, if affects many types of PDE not just PDE-4D. 

Pentoxifylline – Clearly an Effective add-on Autism Therapy for some


Today I am looking at Roflumilast/Daxas which mainly affects PDE-4.  There are 4 sub-types (isoforms) A, B, C and D.  Drugs that affect all these sub-types are called PDE4 pan inhibitors and they usually cannot be used in humans. due to severe nausea.

Roflumilast/Daxas is used to treat COPD/severe asthma at a dose just on the limit, where it begins to be effective and inhibit PDE in the lungs but before the nausea makes it unusable. There is research to make an inhaled version, which would make a lot of sense.

We are interested in PDE4 in the brain, not the lungs.  The effect of Roflumilast on PDE4 is unusual in that it is very dose dependent; too little and there is no effect, too much and there is no effect.  So, the amount of Roflumilast and its metabolites in your blood stream need to be within a tight range.

The median plasma half lives of Roflumilast and its N-oxide metabolite are approximately 17 and 30 hours, respectively.

This means if you give the same dose every day, the level of the metabolites will reach a steady state only after about 5 days.

As mentioned in an early post, roflumilast is not soluble in water, but it is in alcohol.  This means you can make a tincture, just like they do with bee propolis.  In fact, I am using an old propolis bottle, the type with a screw-on pipette.

We know from the research that in healthy adults a dose of 100mcg may be cognitive enhancing.

My target dose was 80mcg, but I wanted to be able to easily vary it.

Take an old propolis bottle and clean it with alcohol/ethanol/vodka.

In a small glass, dissolve 5 tablets (5 x 500mcg Daxas) in 15ml of vodka.  The tablets slowly dissolve; mix well and then use the pipette to transfer the fluid to the bottle and also figure out where on the pipette equates to 0.5ml. When I recently did this it took me 31 squirts, so by eye I was giving on average 83 mcg.

When I first started there was one day of dramatically increased speech, which I could not reproduce.  The first day of Pentoxifylline also had this effect. Pentoxifylline has a very short half-life.

Since at school Monty is having his year-end exams, I decided to focus on cognition.  I think my original dose was too high, more like 100 mcg.  Giving a little extra is something you have to resist.

Being a bit stingy (ungenerous) with the pipette, is what you have to be.

At close to 80 mcg a day, I am getting feedback from school that cognition is great.

Exams started and Monty is doing really well.  They are 90-minute exams and the fact that he is even there is amazing to me; that is down to 8 years of Bumetanide.

It looks like 80 mcg of Roflumilast does give an extra boost to cognition in a 60 kg boy.

Is it worth it?

One pack of 30 x 500mcg Roflumilast/Daxas tablets costs about EUR 40 (about 50 USD) in Europe, but at the 80 mcg daily dose it will last 6 months.

Monty has had been no side effects (nausea, GI etc), but this is very specific to the person. I myself did get GI side effects from 100 mcg.


Science that supports the use of a PDE4 inhibitor

There are many different types of PDE (Phosphodiesterase) and there has been a lot of research looking at their relevance to a wide range of neurological conditions.

The table below gives a useful summary, by disorder.


Neurodevelopmental disorders are highlighted in red. AD Alzheimer disease; ASD autism spectrum disorder; BP bipolar disorder; DS down syndrome; HD Huntington disease; ID intellectual disability; FXS fragile X syndrome; MDD major depression disorder, RTT Rett syndrome, SCZ schizophrenia.


This table is from an excellent paper published earlier this year.


Role of phosphodiesterases in the pathophysiology of neurodevelopmental disorders

Phosphodiesterases (PDEs) are enzymes involved in the homeostasis of both cAMP and cGMP. They are members of a family of proteins that includes 11 subfamilies with different substrate specificities. Their main function is to catalyze the hydrolysis of cAMP, cGMP, or both. cAMP and cGMP are two key second messengers that modulate a wide array of intracellular processes and neurobehavioral functions, including memory and cognition. Even if these enzymes are present in all tissues, we focused on those PDEs that are expressed in the brain. We took into consideration genetic variants in patients affected by neurodevelopmental disorders, phenotypes of animal models, and pharmacological effects of PDE inhibitors, a class of drugs in rapid evolution and increasing application to brain disorders. Collectively, these data indicate the potential of PDE modulators to treat neurodevelopmental diseases characterized by learning and memory impairment, alteration of behaviors associated with depression, and deficits in social interaction. Indeed, clinical trials are in progress to treat patients with Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, depression, and autism spectrum disorders. Among the most recent results, the application of some PDE inhibitors (PDE2A, PDE3, PDE4/4D, and PDE10A) to treat neurodevelopmental diseases, including autism spectrum disorders and intellectual disability, is a significant advance, since no specific therapies are available for these disorders that have a large prevalence. In addition, to highlight the role of several PDEs in normal and pathological neurodevelopment, we focused here on the deregulation of cAMP and/or cGMP in Down Syndrome, Fragile X Syndrome, Rett Syndrome, and intellectual disability associated with the CC2D1A gene.


It looks like idiopathic autism has the least research, but there is an interesting old paper.


Expression of Phosphodiesterase 4 is altered in brain of subjects with autism


The cyclic adenosine monophosphate-specific phosphodiesterase-4 (PDE4) gene family is the target of several potential therapeutic inhibitors and the PDE4B gene has been associated with schizophrenia and depression. Little, however, is known of any connection between this gene family and autism, with limited effective treatment being available for autism. We measured the expression of PDE4A and PDE4B by sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis and Western blotting in Brodmann's area 40 (BA40, parietal cortex), BA9 (superior frontal cortex), and cerebellum from subjects with autism and matched controls. We observed a lower expression of PDE4A5, PDE4B1, PDE4B3, PDE4B4, and PDE4B2 in the cerebella of subjects with autism when compared with matched controls. In BA9, we observed the opposite: a higher expression of PDE4AX, PDE4A1, and PDE4B2 in subjects with autism. No changes were observed in BA40. Our results demonstrate altered expressions of the PDE4A and PDE4B proteins in the brains of subjects with autism and might provide new therapeutic avenues for the treatment of this debilitating disorder.



It looks like Roflumilast/Daxas should join Pentoxifylline on the to-trial list for people with autism.

In my opinion the actions of Pentoxifylline and Roflumilast/Daxas are sufficiently different that conceivably some people might benefit from taking both.

I cannot see why someone with Fragile X should wait another decade for BPN14770 to maybe get commercialized.

There are PDE4 inhibitors in the pipeline for Alzheimer’s.  In my opinion the focus should be more on prevention.  By the time people get diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, it is too late to reverse it.