Showing posts with label AMD. Show all posts
Showing posts with label AMD. Show all posts

Monday 20 January 2020

Sulfarlem / Anethole trithione (AOL) for Autism secondary to Mitochondrial Dysfunction (AMD)? Not to mention Metastasis

Sulfarlem has been used to treat dry mouths for half a century
By -, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Sulfarlem is a drug containing a chemical called Anethole trithione. Anethole is an organic compound used as a flavouring, it contributes a large component of the odour and flavour of anise and fennel.

Anise seed, or aniseed, contains a large amount of Anethole. The popular Greek drink Ouzo turns cloudy when diluted with water because of the Anethole. For the French it is called Pastis.   

Ouzo has been used to treat dry Greek mouths for seven centuries, particularly after a good meal.

For Anethole without the alcohol, a good source would include aniseed or fennel.


Today's post was prompted by a comment made before Christmas by our reader Claudia; she highlighted some recent French research that repurposes a drug developed by Solvay half a century ago.  The drug is Sulfarlem / Anethole trithione and it is used to treat people with a dry mouth, mainly in French speaking countries (including Canada) and in China, particularly Taiwan.

Sulfarlem appears to have secondary effects that include inhibiting oxidative stress in mitochondria which might benefit a long list of diseases, though they do not mention autism secondary to mitochondrial disease.

The other effect is a reduction in metastasis in people with cancer. This effect was written about in 2002 in the mass media.

Here, we demonstrate that OP2113 (5-(4-Methoxyphenyl)-3H-1,2-dithiole-3-thione, CAS 532-11-6), synthesized and used as a drug since 1696, does not act as an unspecific antioxidant molecule (i.e., as a radical scavenger) but unexpectedly decreases mitochondrial reactive oxygen species (ROS/H2O2) production by acting as a specific inhibitor of ROS production at the IQ site of complex I of the mitochondrial respiratory chain. Studies performed on isolated rat heart mitochondria also showed that OP2113 does not affect oxidative phosphorylation driven by complex I or complex II substrates. We assessed the effect of OP2113 on an infarct model of ex vivo rat heart in which mitochondrial ROS production is highly involved and showed that OP2113 protects heart tissue as well as the recovery of heart contractile activity. 

Conclusion / Significance This work represents the first demonstration of a drug authorized for use in humans that can prevent mitochondria from producing ROS/H2O2. OP2113 therefore appears to be a member of the new class of mitochondrial ROS blockers (S1QELs) and could protect mitochondrial function in numerous diseases in which ROS-induced mitochondrial dysfunction occurs. These applications include but are not limited to aging, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, cardiac atrial fibrillation, and ischemia-reperfusion injury.

Here is the associated patent:-


The present invention relates to an inhibitor of production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) for treating or for use in the treatment of free oxygen-radicals related diseases. In one embodiment, said inhibitor is anethole trithione (AOL). In one embodiment, said inhibitor inhibits mitochondrial production of ROS. In a preferred embodiment, said inhibitor inhibits mitochondrial production of ROS at site IQ of complex I of mitochondria

In one embodiment, said free oxygen-radicals related diseases are selected from the group comprising: age-related macular degeneration, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, ischemic and reperfusion injury, pulmonary arterial hypertension, scleroderma, atherosclerosis, heart failure, myocardial infarction, arthritis, pulmonary toxicity, cardiopulmonary diseases, inflammatory diseases, cancer, metastasis, cardiac toxicity of anthracyclines, heart failure regardless of origin, ischemia, heart attack, stroke, thrombosis and embolism, asthma, allergic/inflammatory conditions, bronchial asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Huntington's disease, cognitive disorders, Progeria, progeroid syndromes, epileptic dementia, presenile dementia, post traumatic dementia, senile dementia, vascular dementia, HIV-1-associated dementia, post-stroke dementia, Down's syndrome, motor neuron disease, amyloidosis, amyloid associated with type 11 diabetes, Creutzfelt-Jakob disease, necrotic cell death, Gerstmann-Straussler syndrome, kuru and animal scrapie, amyloid associated with longterm hemodialysis, senile cardiac amyloid and Familial Amyloidotic Polyneuropathy, cerebropathy, neurospanchnic disorders, memory loss, aluminum intoxication, reducing the level of iron in the cells of living subjects, reducing free transition metal ion levels in mammals, patients having toxic amounts of metal in the body or in certain body compartments, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, cataract, diabetes, cancer, liver diseases, skin ageing, transplantation, ototoxic secondary effects of aminoglycosides, neoplasms and toxicity of anti-neoplastic or immunosuppressive agents and chemicals, innate immune responses, and, Friedreich's Ataxia.

In one embodiment, said inhibitor is for preventing or for use in the prevention of metastasis.

From way back in 2002: -

Dry-Mouth Drug Joins Cancer Fight

Stephen Lam, director of the lung cancer prevention program at the British Columbia Cancer Research Center in Vancouver, British Columbia, found that one of Solvay's drugs, marketed as Sialor or Sulfarlem, also significantly reduces the spread of lung-cancer tumors.

Lam's study completed the second phase of trials necessary for the FDA's consideration. Over six months, 101 smokers and former smokers took the dry-mouth drug. It reduced the progression of their lung cancer tumors by an average of 22 percent.
To participate in the study, the smokers had to have smoked at least a pack a day for 30 years, or two packs a day for 15 years.
Those who took a placebo had 53 percent more new lesions or lesions that got worse than those who took the drug.
The billion-dollar question is, who will pay for more clinical trials? Lam's study was paid for with grants from the National Cancer Institute, and the money has run out. The final stage of clinical trials can cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

The French have recently followed up :-

Mitochondria ROS blocker OP2-113 downregulates the insulin receptor substrate-2 (IRS-2) and inhibits lung tumor growth

They go further in their patent and propose Sulfarlem as a blocker of metastasis.

A recent Chinese paper sets out the mechanism of action.

CXCR4 and PTEN are involved in the anti-metastatic regulation of anethole in DU145 prostate cancer cells

Taken together, anethole demonstrated to act as the CXCR4 antagonist and as the PTEN activator which resulted to PI3K/AKT-mediated inhibition of the metastatic prostate cancer progressions.

Regular readers will know that PTEN is both a cancer gene and an autism gene.

PTEN is best known as a tumor suppressor affecting RAS-dependent cancer, like much prostate cancer. Activating PTEN is good for slowing cancer growth. As I mentioned in a recent comment to Roger, many substances are known to activate PTEN; a good example being I3C (indole-3-carbindol) which is found in those cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage etc) that many people choose not to eat.

Activating PTEN should also help some types of autism.

A recent Japanese study has a different take on the anti-metastatic mode of action.

Anethole is known to possess anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor activities and to be a main constituent of fennel, anise, and camphor. In the present study, we evaluated anti-metastatic and apoptotic effects of anethole on highly-metastatic HT-1080 human fibrosarcoma tumor cells. Despite weak cytotoxicity against HT-1080 cells, anethole inhibited the adhesion to Matrigel and invasion of HT-1080 cells in a dose-dependent manner. Anethole was also able to down-regulate the expression of matrix metalloproteinase (MMP)-2 and -9 and up-regulate the gene expression of tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase (TIMP)-1. The similar inhibitory effect of anethole on MMP-2 and -9 activities was confirmed by zymography assay. Furthermore, anethole significantly decreased mRNA expression of urokinase plasminogen activator (uPA), but not uPA receptor (uPAR). In addition, anethole suppressed the phosphorylation of AKT, extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK), p38 and nuclear transcription factor kappa B (NF-kB) in HT-1080 cells. Taken together, our findings indicate that anethole is a potent anti-metastatic drug that functions through inhibiting MMP-2/9 and AKT/mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK)/NF-kB signal transducers.


There is quite a lot in this blog about cancer, due to the overlapping signalling pathways with autism, so follows a little digression about metastasis.

Metastasis is a pathogenic agent's spread from an initial/primary site to a different/secondary site within the host's body.

Often it is the metastasis that ultimately kills people; indeed this just happened to the mother of one of Monty's friends with autism.

Metastasis involves a complex series of steps in which cancer cells leave the original tumor site and migrate to other parts of the body via the bloodstream, via the lymphatic system, or by direct extension.

Source: Mikael Häggström 

If a cheap substance could reduce metastasis that would be a big deal.  Cancer is currently the second most common cause of death.  If you can take cheap/safe chemoprotective agents to reduce cancer’s occurrence and a cheap substance to reduce its spread/metastasis you would be pretty smart.

Cheap Cancer Drugs

Numerous cheap drugs have known anti-cancer properties (Metformin, Aspirin, Statins, plus many more) but absolutely no serious interest is shown to apply any of them.  Instead, some hugely expensive drugs have been developed that often extend life by a matter of months.

Sulfarlem certainly is cheap, costing 3 euros (USD 3.3) a pack in France, where it seems to be sold OTC.

It looks like the world of cancer research is as dysfunctional as the world of autism research, when it comes to translating existing knowledge into beneficial therapies.  Nobody wants a cheap cancer drug and I think nobody wants a cheap autism drug.  

Most people still believe autism cannot be treated and some even think it should not be treated. 


Sulfarlem has been around for 50 years and so there is plenty of safety data regarding its use.

It does look like a significant number of people with autism have a problem with Complex 1 in their mitochondria.  This subject has been covered extensively in this blog in regard to regressive autism and what Dr Kelley, from Johns Hopkins, termed autism secondary to mitochondrial disease (AMD).  Unfortunately for us, he has retired.

Dr Kelley’s mito-cocktail of antioxidants is used by many, but even he makes clear that it is far from perfect and it is not so cheap. 

Sulfarlem looks like an interesting potential add-on, or even a potential replacement.

The fact that Sulfarlem also activates PTEN means that an entirely different group with autism might see a benefit.

Who might carry out a trial of Sulfarlem in autism?  I think the one likely group are those irrepressible autism researchers in Iran, who have trialed so many off-label drugs.  Since Sulfarlem is already licensed in Canada, one of those more enlightened researchers in Toronto might like to investigate.

If you live in France you can skip your early morning expresso and go down to the pharmacy with your three euros and then make your own trial.

Sulfarlem, or just plain anethole, seems a cheap/safe way to potentially reduce metastasis once cancer has been identified. Probably not worth waiting another 20 years for any possible further clinical trials.

Friday 1 June 2018

Autism, Power Outages and the Starving Brain?

There are certain Critical Periods in the development of the human brain and these are the most vulnerable times to any genetic or environmental insult.  Critical Periods (CPs) will be the subject of post appearing shortly.

Another power outage waiting to happen

 Have you wondered why autism secondary to mitochondrial disease (regressive autism) almost always seem to occur before five years of age, and usually much earlier?  Why does it not happen later? Why is it's onset often preceded by a viral infection?
I think you can consider much of this in terms of the brain running out of energy. Humans have evolved to require a huge amount of energy to power their developing brains, a massive 40% of the body’s energy is required by the brain in early childhood.  If your overload a power grid it will end in a blackout.
We know many people with autism have a tendency towards mitochondrial dysfunction, they lack some key enzyme complexes. This means that the process of OXPHOS (Oxidative phosphorylation), by which the body converts glucose to usable energy (ATP), is partially disabled. 

We saw in earlier posts how the supply of glucose and oxygen to the brain can be impaired in autism because there is unstable blood flow.

It is just like in your house, all your electrical appliances might mean you need a 25KW supply, because you do not use them all at the same time. Just to be on the safe side you might have a 40KW limit. What if the power company will only give you a 20 KW connection? If you turn on the clothes drier, the oven, the air conditioning and some other things all of a sudden you blow the main fuse and perhaps damage the hard drive of your old computer.
So, in the power-hungry brain of a three-year-old, you add a viral infection and all of a sudden you exceed the available power supply from the mitochondria, that have soldered on for 3years with impaired supply of complex 1 and imperfect cerebral blood flow. By the sixth year of life, the peak power requirement from the brain would have fallen to within the safe limit of the mitochondria and its impaired supply of complex 1.  Instead of blowing the fuse, which is easy to reset, you have blown some neuronal circuitry, which is not so easy to repair.    

Too Many Synapses?
We know that it is the synapses in the brain that are the big energy users and we also know that in most autism there are too many synapses. So, in that group of autism there is an even bigger potential energy demand.

Note that in Alzheimer’s type dementia (AD in the above chart) you see a severe loss of synapses/spines as atrophy takes place. This occurs at the same time as a loss of insulin sensitivity occurs (type 3 diabetes). Perhaps the AD brain is also starved of energy, it does seem to respond to ketosis (ketones replacing glucose as the fuel) and it responds to Agmatine (increasing blood flow via eNOS).
We also know that adolescent synaptic pruning is dysfunctional in autism and we even know why. Interestingly by modifying GABAA function with bumetanide we may indeed allow the brain to eliminate more synapses (a good thing), so possibly an unexpected benefit from Ben Ari’s original idea.

"Working with a mouse model we have shown that, at puberty, there is an increase in inhibitory GABA receptors, which are targets for brain chemicals that quiet down nerve cells. We now report that these GABA receptors trigger synaptic pruning at puberty in the mouse hippocampus, a brain area involved in learning and memory." The report, published by eLife, "Synaptic pruning in the female hippocampus is triggered at puberty by extrasynaptic GABAA receptors on dendritic spines."            
These findings may suggest new treatments targeting GABA receptors for "normalizing" synaptic pruning in diseases such as autism and schizophrenia, where synaptic pruning is abnormal. Research has suggested that children with autism may have an over-abundance of synapses in some parts of the brain.

Synaptic pruning in the female hippocampus is triggered at puberty by extrasynaptic GABAA receptors on dendritic spines

Adolescent synaptic pruning is thought to enable optimal cognition because it is disrupted in certain neuropathologies, yet the initiator of this process is unknown. One factor not yet considered is the α4βδ GABAA receptor (GABAR), an extrasynaptic inhibitory receptor which first emerges on dendritic spines at puberty in female mice. Here we show that α4βδ GABARs trigger adolescent pruning. Spine density of CA1 hippocampal pyramidal cells decreased by half post-pubertally in female wild-type but not α4 KO mice. This effect was associated with decreased expression of kalirin-7 (Kal7), a spine protein which controls actin cytoskeleton remodeling. Kal7 decreased at puberty as a result of reduced NMDAR activation due to α4βδ-mediated inhibition. In the absence of this inhibition, Kal7 expression was unchanged at puberty. In the unpruned condition, spatial re-learning was impaired. These data suggest that pubertal pruning requires α4βδ GABARs. In their absence, pruning is prevented and cognition is not optimal.

Strange Patterns of Growth
Longitudinal studies are when researchers collect the same data over long period of years. Most autism research is just based on a single snapshot in time.
One observation of mine is that some people with strictly defined autism (SDA) are born at the 90+ percentile for height, but then fall back to something like the 20 percentile. Body growth has dramatically slowed. Was this because energy has been diverted to the overgrowing brain? 
A five-year old’s brain is an energy monster. It uses twice as much glucose (the energy that fuels the brain) as that of a full-grown adult, a new study led by Northwestern University anthropologists has found.
It was previously believed that the brain’s resource burden on the body was largest at birth, when the size of the brain relative to the body is greatest. The researchers found instead that the brain maxes out its glucose use at age 5. At age 4 the brain consumes glucose at a rate comparable to 66 percent of the body’s resting metabolic rate (or more than 40 percent of the body’s total energy expenditure). 

“The mid-childhood peak in brain costs has to do with the fact that synapses, connections in the brain, max out at this age, when we learn so many of the things we need to know to be successful humans,” Kuzawa said.

“At its peak in childhood, the brain burns through two-thirds of the calories the entire body uses at rest, much more than other primate species,” said William Leonard, co-author of the study. “To compensate for these heavy energy demands of our big brains, children grow more slowly and are less physically active during this age range. Our findings strongly suggest that humans evolved to grow slowly during this time in order to free up fuel for our expensive, busy childhood brains.” 

Full paper: -

The high energetic costs of human brain development have been hypothesized to explain distinctive human traits, including exceptionally slow and protracted preadult growth. Although widely assumed to constrain life-history evolution, the metabolic requirements of the growing human brain are unknown. We combined previously collected PET and MRI data to calculate the human brain’s glucose use from birth to adulthood, which we compare with body growth rate. We evaluate the strength of brain–body metabolic trade-offs using the ratios of brain glucose uptake to the body’s resting metabolic rate (RMR) and daily energy requirements (DER) expressed in glucose-gram equivalents (glucosermr% and glucoseder%). We find that glucosermr% and glucoseder% do not peak at birth (52.5% and 59.8% of RMR, or 35.4% and 38.7% of DER, for males and females, respectively), when relative brain size is largest, but rather in childhood (66.3% and 65.0% of RMR and 43.3% and 43.8% of DER). Body-weight growth (dw/dt) and both glucosermr% and glucoseder% are strongly, inversely related: soon after birth, increases in brain glucose demand are accompanied by proportionate decreases in dw/dt. Ages of peak brain glucose demand and lowest dw/dt co-occur and subsequent developmental declines in brain metabolism are matched by proportionate increases in dw/dt until puberty. The finding that human brain glucose demands peak during childhood, and evidence that brain metabolism and body growth rate covary inversely across development, support the hypothesis that the high costs of human brain development require compensatory slowing of body growth rate. 

To quantify the metabolic costs of the human brain, in this study we used a unique, previously collected age series of PET measures of brain glucose uptake spanning birth to adulthood (32), along with existing MRI volumetric data (36), to calculate the brain’s total glucose use from birth to adulthood, which we compare with body growth rate. We estimate total brain glucose uptake by age (inclusive of all oxidative and nonoxidative functions), which we compare with two measures of whole-body energy expenditure: RMR, reflecting maintenance functions only, and daily energy requirements (DER), reflecting the combination of maintenance, activity, and growth. We hypothesized that ages of peak substrate competition (i.e., competition for glucose) between brain and body would be aligned developmentally with the age of slowest childhood body growth, and more generally that growth rate and brain glucose use would covary inversely during development, as is predicted by the concept of a trade-off between brain metabolism and body growth in human life-history evolution. 

Daily glucose use by the brain peaks at 5.2 y of age at 167.0 g/d and 146.1 g/d in males and females, respectively. These values represent 1.88- and 1.82-times the daily glucose use of the brain in adulthood (Fig. 1 A and B and SI Appendix, Fig. S2), despite the fact that body size is more than three-times as large in the adult.

Glucose use of the human brain by age. (A) Grams per day in males. (B) Grams per day in females; dashed horizontal line is adult value (A and B). (C) Glucosermr% (solid line) and glucoseder% (dashed line) in males. (D) Glucosermr% (solid line) and glucoseder% (dashed line) in females.

The most relevant data is the line highlighted in yellow below, showing brain consumption of glucose peaks at 40% (of total body consumption) around 5 years old and drops to 20% in adulthood.

Our findings agree with past estimates indicating that the brain dominates the body’s metabolism during early life (31). However, our PET-based calculations reveal that the magnitude of brain glucose uptake, both in absolute terms and relative to the body’s metabolic budget, does not peak at birth but rather in childhood, when the glucose used by the brain comprises the equivalent of 66% of the body’s RMR, and roughly 43% of total expenditure. These findings are in broad agreement with past clinical work showing that the body’s mass-specific glucose production rates are highest in childhood, and tightly linked with the brain’s metabolic needs (40). Whereas past attempts to quantify the contribution of the brain to the body’s metabolic expenditure suggested that the brain accounted for a continuously decreasing fraction of RMR as the brain-to-body weight ratio declined with age (25, 31), we find a more complex pattern of substrate trade-off. Both glucosermr% and glucoseder% decline in the first half-year as a fast but decelerating pace of body growth established in utero initially outpaces postnatal increases in brain metabolism. Beginning around 6 mo, increases in relative glucose use are matched by proportionate decreases in weight growth, whereas ages of declining brain glucose uptake in late childhood and early adolescence are accompanied by proportionate increases in weight growth. The relationships that we document between age changes in brain glucose demands and body-weight growth rate are particularly striking in males, who maintain these inverse linear trends despite experiencing threefold changes in brain glucose demand and body growth rate between 6 mo and 13 y of age. In females, an earlier onset of pubertal weight gain leads to earlier deviations from similar linear inverse relationships.

What the researchers then did was to see how the growth rate of the brain is correlated to the growth rate of the body. In effect that what they found was that the growth of the body has to slow down to allow the energy hungry brain to develop.  One the brain has passed its peak energy requirement at about 5 years old, body growth can then gradually accelerate. 
The brain is the red line, the body is blue. The chart on the left is males and the one on the right is females. 
So, we might suspect that in 2 to 4-year olds who seem not to be growing as fast as we might expect, the reason is that their brain is over-growing, a key feature of classic autism.

Glucoseder% and body-weight growth rate. Glucoseder% and weight velocities plotted as SD scores to allow unitless comparison. (A) Glucoseder% (red dots) and dw/dt (blue dots) by age in males. (B) Glucoseder% (red dots) and dw/dt (blue dots) by age in females

Brain Overgrowth in Autism
As has been previous commented on in this blog, Eric Courchesne has pretty much figured out what goes wrong in the growth trajectory of the autistic brain; that was almost 15 years ago.

Brain development in autism: early overgrowth followed by premature arrest of growth.

Author information


Due to the relatively late age of clinical diagnosis of autism, the early brain pathology of children with autism has remained largely unstudied. The increased use of retrospective measures such as head circumference, along with a surge of MRI studies of toddlers with autism, have opened a whole new area of research and discovery. Recent studies have now shown that abnormal brain overgrowth occurs during the first 2 years of life in children with autism. By 2-4 years of age, the most deviant overgrowth is in cerebral, cerebellar, and limbic structures that underlie higher-order cognitive, social, emotional, and language functions. Excessive growth is followed by abnormally slow or arrested growth. Deviant brain growth in autism occurs at the very time when the formation of cerebral circuitry is at its most exuberant and vulnerable stage, and it may signal disruption of this process of circuit formation. The resulting aberrant connectivity and dysfunction may lead to the development of autistic behaviors. To discover the causes, neural substrates, early-warning signs and effective treatments of autism, future research should focus on elucidating the neurobiological defects that underlie brain growth abnormalities in autism that appear during these critical first years of life.

Research from 2017: -

A record of children’s height and weight and even head circumference is usually collected by their doctor. In an earlier post I did ask why they bother if nobody is checking this data. If a child falls from the 90th percentile in height to the 20th, something clearly is going on.
When I discussed this with a pediatric endocrinologist a few years ago, we then measured bone-age and IGF-1. If you have low IGF-1 and retarded bone age you might opt for some kind of growth hormone therapy.
In what is broadly defined as autism, I think we have some distinctly different things possibly happening: -

Group AMD
Energy conversion in the brain is less efficient than it should be due to a combination of impaired vascular function and impaired mitochondrial enzyme complex production. No symptoms are apparent and developmental milestones are achieved.  As the brain creates more synapses it energy requirement grows until the day when the body has some external insult like a viral infection, and the required power is not available, triggering a “power outage” which appears as the regression into autism. In biological terms there has been death of neurons and demyelination.

Group Sliding Down the Percentiles 
This group looks like a sub-set of classic autism. The brain grows too rapidly in the first two years after birth and this causes the expected slowing of body growth to occur much earlier than in typical children. This manifests itself in the child tumbling down the percentiles for height and weight.
The brain then stops growing prematurely, reducing energy consumption and allowing body growth to accelerate and the child slowly rises back up the height/weight percentiles.

Perhaps all those excessive synapses that were not pruned correctly are wasting glucose and so delay the growth of the rest of the body?   
In the sliding down the growth percentiles group, does this overgrowing brain ever exceed maximum available power? Maybe it just grows too fast and so mal-develops, as suggested by Courchesne, or maybe it grows too fast and cannot fuel correct development?  What happens if you increase maximum available power in this group, in the way some athletes use to enhance their performance/cheat?
All I know for sure is that in Monty, aged 14 with autism, increasing eNOS (endothelial nitric oxide synthase) using agmatine seems to make him achieve much more, with the same daily glucose consumption. I wonder what would happen if Agmatine was given to very young children as soon as it was noted that they were tumbling down the height percentiles?  This is perhaps what the pediatric endocrinologists should be thinking about, rather than just whether or not to administer growth hormones/IGF-1.
If you could identify Group AMD before the “power outage” you might be able to boost maximum power production or reduce body growth slightly and hence avoid the brain ever being starved of energy. That way you would not have most regressive autism.

Friday 29 December 2017

Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD) – Not a Useful Diagnosis?

Today’s post is about CDD (Childhood Disintegrative Disorder) also known as Heller’s Syndrome, which sounds rather nicer. It was first identified in 1908 by an Austrian, Theodore Heller. Later on came Hans Asperger, another Austrian and Leo Kanner who was born in what was the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Why were Austrians so interested in Autism?

I started this post expecting that I would naturally be a supporter of the continued use of CDD as a diagnosis, I do firmly support calling an Aspie an Aspie after all. 
CDD is a diagnosis used for late onset severe regressive autism, which has fast onset, making it scary for all concerned.
Unlike many syndromes, Rett for example, Heller’s syndrome is not a defined genetic condition, it is just another observational diagnosis. This probably explains why it has been folded into the ASD diagnosis in the current DSM5, which sadly was also the case with Asperger’s.
Since it is not really a syndrome I will call it by its other name CDD (Childhood Disintegrative Disorder). I have not previously given much mention to CDD in my blog because I had assumed it was much worse than “regular” severe autism and that the disorder was well defined, so that it would be a clear case of CDD or autism.  It turns out this was a mistake. 

Back in 1994
In 1994 when Yale researcher, Fred Volkmar, was writing about CDD and severe autism he noted
More boys than girls appear to be affected. Childhood disintegrative disorder is perhaps 10 times less common than more strictly defined autism and is estimated to occur in between 1-2 children per 100,000. 

He was thinking strictly defined autism (SDA) was present in 0.015% of the population (15 children per 100,000), whereas I think today it is 0.3% (300 children per 100,000). I have got by zeroes in the right place. That is a massive twenty-fold increase in severe autism in 20 years, something that is never seriously investigated because DSM5 autism now includes 1% (1,000 children per 100,000) who have mild autism (mainly Asperger’s), so no statistics are directly comparable. 

Present Day
In today’s post we will see that CDD is just another broad umbrella term for a large number of different, often genetic, disorders. The case of CDD presented by a Yale researcher below appears to show a young lady less severely affected than many people with a diagnosis of severe autism. 

Well in case of Gina in the above article, it looks no worse than “regular” severe autism, certainly not terrifying. She rides a bicycle and helps around the home.

The Yale researcher in the above article is rather indignant that his disorder has “disappeared” into autism in DSM5 and so now he struggles to get funding.  What is telling is his comment that if you had a CDD diagnosis, clinicians would then naturally look for its biological origin, but now with a diagnosis of autism with ID (Intellectual Disability), no clinician will investigate further. Why is that??
The distinction has clinical implications. With a CDD diagnosis, the initial push is to hunt for a reversible cause. If the patient is diagnosed with autism and intellectual disability instead, that hunt never happens. "This means we may be missing a whole world of possible treatments for kids on the low-functioning end," says Westphal. 

Now this raises a question of why people with CDD are more worthwhile investigating, than anyone else. Surely all cases of severe autism should be investigated? There are no more wonder cures for CDD than there are for any other autism. As we have seen previously, there are numerous rare inborn errors of the metabolism that cause autism/ID that are treatable. 
Westphal wrongly assumes that there are no possible therapies for severe idiopathic autism. 

CDD as a sub-type of regressive autism
It would seem best to consider CDD for what it is, late onset regressive autism, with or without a “prodrome”, which is a distressing period of great anxiety lasting a month or two as the regression from normal to severe autism takes place.
In the young lady profiled in the above article, there was no prodrome and her regression took place at 3 years old and left her in a condition better than some I know with an autism diagnosis.
So here I actually agree with DSM5 that she would be better off with an autism + ID diagnosis; she should then have been taken to Johns Hopkins to see Dr Kelley, to check for mitochondrial disease. She looks no different to one of his cases of severe autism secondary to mitochondrial disease (AMD).
It looks like genuinely late regression, say 5 to 10 years old, points to some rare disorders like leukodystrophy, which is itself a family of genetic myelination disorders. These can be late onset and are degenerative.
Very likely within what has been diagnosed as CDD are hundreds of rare disorders, some degenerative but most not. It is the degenerative potential that makes CDD scary, but most people do not have this.
Some of these non-degenerative disorders will overlap with people diagnosed with severe autism, which itself likely includes many hundreds of rare biological disorders.
It certainly is important to get as precise diagnosis/description of each type of autism as possible.
So why not keep CDD along with Asperger’s as sub-categories of autism? All these rather vague observational diagnosis carry risks. You can have mitochondrial disease at age 5 that causes a regression to severe autism, I think the Yale team might well (mis)diagnose that as CDD, which is much more of an arbitrary diagnosis than I had realized.
An important issue is whether the disfunction is degenerative or not. It turns out that in a small number of CDD cases, the disintegration continues to an early death, but in most cases the condition becomes stable and in a small number of cases there is partial recovery, as with Dr Kelley’s AMD. This tells us that the observational diagnosis is pretty pointless. As always, what matters is a biological diagnosis.
The CDD researchers think some people with severe autism have CDD. I think people with CDD either have a rare genetic dysfunction, which may or may not be degenerative, they have mitochondrial disease, or it is “just” another case of idiopathic autism (the “I don’t know” category). So I do not really see the point of the CDD diagnosis.
The diagnosis should be ASD, its severity, speech delay or not, cognitive level, nature and time of onset, and then possible biological origin based on genetic testing. 

I think people diagnosed with CDD, who have no identifiable genetic disorder, really need to get tested for mitochondrial disease.
I wish some more intelligent people were in charge of autism research and collecting and interpreting data on prevalence. Is it possible that the prevalence of Strictly Defined Autism (SDA) was just 0.015% in 1994, versus 0.3% today? That means going from very rare to just rare in two decades. Maybe clinicians back then diagnosed a much larger group simply with MR/ID, that today would get diagnosed with autism + MR/ID. Pre Dr Wakefield and the MMR vaccine scandal, autism was rarely spoken about, even among doctors; today it has become quite a fashionable diagnosis. That is the best explanation I can think of; we do know that the diagnosis of MR/ID has fallen substantially in the last decades.