Showing posts with label Cerebellum. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cerebellum. Show all posts

Thursday 6 June 2013

The Singing Statin, the BCL-2 Gene and Epigenetics

This post has something for both the casual reader and the scientists among you.  Today I will start with the science.


Epigenetics are chemical markers that can appear on your DNA as the result of some environmental exposure, like diet or stress.  Methylation is a type of epigenetic change in which methyl groups are added to DNA and switch on or off the underlying gene.  This can have severe consequences depending on which gene is affected.

Identical Twins

It seems that if one identical twin has autism, there is a 70% chance that the other twin will be autistic.  In 30% of the cases the twin is neurotypical.  Researchers have very cleverly started to analyse pairs of twins from this 30% group and look for epigenetic marks.  This would highlight genetic causes of autism.


Apoptosis is a tricky word to spell, for somebody like me, but is actually something quite simple; it is programmed cell death.  Apoptosis happens in all of us, all day long.  If it gets out of control, it becomes bad and something called atrophy will occur.  Too little apoptosis can result in irregular cell growth and cancer.

Candidate Genes

Using the epigenetics approach, in 2010 a study was published that identified two “candidate” genes linked to autism.  They were BCL-2 and RORA.

According to that study, BCL-2 is an anti-apoptotic protein located in the outer mitochondrial membrane that is important for cell survival under a variety of stressful conditions.  In other words BCL-2 inhibits cell death.

According to another source, BCL-2 is “one of the foremost anti-apoptotic molecules”.

A very recent study has identified more such genes, using the same approach.
If you are really interested in the genetics of autism, there is actually a database of all the indicated genes, maintained by the Simons Foundation.

BCL-2 and autism

Going back to 2001, researchers had already noted that the autistic brain was deficient in BCL-2 and they suggested that:-

“These results indicate for the first time that autistic cerebellum may be vulnerable to pro-apoptotic stimuli and to neuronal atrophy as a consequence of decreased BCL-2 levels.”

As we have already learned, in the autistic brain the important Purkinje Cells are reduced in number by half due to atrophy.  If BCL-2 can indeed reduce this excessive apoptosis, it should be a friend indeed.

Stimulating production of Bcl-2

Fortunately the clever people working with Professor Wood, at the University of Minnesota, have been studying cholesterol regulation in the brain for some time.  Here is what they have been up to:-

“The lab has recently made the novel discovery that statins both in vivo and in vitro stimulate gene expression and protein levels of one of the foremost anti-apoptotic molecules, Bcl-2. Currently, studies are focused on mechanisms of statin-induction of Bcl-2”

Or in plainer English, statin drugs increase your level of BCL-2 and so reduce cell death.

The Singing Statin

Now we have finished with the pure science and we move back to the practical world of applied science.

Monty, aged 9, has been taking atorvastatin for a few weeks.  After day one, he developed the urge to play the piano outside of lesson time.  Every day since, he has played more and more.  Now his piano teacher says she thinks he has absolute pitch.  It turns out that this is far more common in the autistic population and there is a great deal of research that has been done on this and music/autism in general.  Here is a short article on the subject.

Now in an earlier post we established the importance of the stress hormone cortisol and also the interesting finding that you can reduce it by singing.  Then I got people asking about, “what about just listening to music” or “what about playing an instrument”.  I did not do the research, but I think nothing works like a good sing.

So yesterday I was delighted to hear that Monty has started to sing spontaneously in his room.  He put on his Mozart CD and started to sing, with his own lyrics and not just in English, but also in his second language.

I have to thank Mr Pfizer and in fact Mr Bruce Roth for bringing us Atorvastatin (called Lipitor or Sortis, depending on where you live).  Mr Roth invented it in 1985.

Perhaps BCL-2 could be better named the Singing Gene?

Thursday 9 May 2013

Praise the Lord and pass the Statins - Part 1

If you are not a native English speaker, you may not have heard the praise “praise the Lord and pass the ammunition”.  It originates from a song written after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in 1942.  A warship’s chaplain puts down his bible and mans a gun firing back at the incoming enemy planes saying, "Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition".

According to Wikipedia, the chaplain was Howell Forgy, was aboard the USS New Orleans.

To hear an original recording click here.

In our case the enemy is neuroinflammation, rather than the Japanese.

Deborah Fein and Martha Herbert

There are some very good researchers in the field of Autism and these two ladies are on my list of the best.  It looks like this paper was mainly the work of Ms Fein’s colleagues at the University of Connecticut: - Can children with autism recover? If so, How?

The paper is very readable and not science-heavy at all.

One of the explanations put forward for the rare event of recovery, was the possible reduction in neuroinflammation.  This very much fits in with the conclusions so far on my blog;  reduce neuroinflammation and in particular in the cerebellum.

Now we have a brief time-out to introduce you to our new friends, the Statins.

Source: W. Gibson Wood, Ph.D.  Department of Pharmacology, University of Minnesota


Statins are a class of drug used to lower cholesterol levels by inhibiting an enzyme which plays a central role in the production of cholesterol in the liver. Increased cholesterol levels have been associated with cardiovascular diseases and statins are therefore used in the prevention of these diseases. Research has found that statins are most effective for treating cardiovascular disease (CVD), with questionable benefit in those without previous CVD, but with elevated cholesterol levels.

Statins act by competitively inhibiting HMG-CoA reductase, the first committed enzyme of the HMG-CoA reductase pathway. Because statins are similar to HMG-CoA on a molecular level, they take the place of HMG-CoA in the enzyme and reduce the rate by which it is able to produce mevalonate, the next molecule in the cascade that eventually produces cholesterol, as well as a number of other compounds. This ultimately reduces cholesterol via several mechanisms.

1.     Inhibiting cholesterol synthesis

By inhibiting HMG-CoA reductase, statins block the pathway for synthesizing cholesterol in the liver. This is significant because most circulating cholesterol comes from internal manufacture rather than the diet. When the liver can no longer produce cholesterol, levels of cholesterol in the blood will fall. Cholesterol synthesis appears to occur mostly at night so statins with short half-lives are usually taken at night to maximize their effect. Studies have shown greater LDL and total cholesterol reductions in the short-acting simvastatin taken at night rather than the morning, but have shown no difference in the long-acting atorvastatin.

2.     Increasing LDL uptake
3.    Other effects

Statins exhibit action beyond lipid-lowering activity in the prevention of atherosclerosis. Researchers hypothesize that statins prevent cardiovascular disease via four proposed mechanisms (all subjects of a large body of biomedical research)
  1. Improve endothelial function
  2. Modulate inflammatory responses
  3. Maintain plaque stability
  4. Prevent thrombus formation
Statins may even benefit those without high cholesterol. In 2008, the JUPITER study showed fewer strokes, heart attacks, and surgeries even for patients who had no history of high cholesterol or heart disease, but only elevated C-reactive protein levels


*****************   Now back to today’s post  *******************

Neuroinflammation in the Cerebellum

How hard can it be to find a therapy for neuroinflammation in the cerebellum?  Thanks to Google Scholar, the answer is a few clicks away.

First of all we need to find what other diseases affect the cerebellum or cause inflammation there.  I settled on two completely different cases to investigate:-

1.    Cerebral Malaria 

2.    Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

Cerebral Malaria (CM) 

First let’s look at what happens in cases of cerebral malaria:-

i) Cognitive sequelae
ii) Speech and language impairment
iii) Epilepsy
iv) Behavior and neuro-psychiatric disorders

Now remember we are looking at malaria, not autism; but this list could just a well be a summary of the effects of autism.

An emerging area of research is the applications of statins to reduce the neuroinflammation caused by this type of malaria.

Here the secondary action of the statin is important; cholesterol reduction is not relevant.  Here are some highlights:-

·         Cognitive impairment in animals rescued from CM by antiplasmodial drug treatment is abrogated by adjuvant lovastatin administration

·         Lovastatin treatment increases functional capillary density and decreases leukocyte-endothelial interactions

·         Lovastatin protects against blood-brain barrier disruption

·         Lovastatin treatment reduces cytokine levels

·         Lovastatin treatment decreases ROS production

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

It is self-evident that a traumatic brain injury, like a car crash, will lead to neuroinflammation.   The search is on here to find optimal ways to treat this inflammation and achieve an optimal outcome.
Here is one paper: - Statins in Traumatic Brain Injury
"The use of statins remains a novel therapeutic strategy for TBI. There is robust preclinical data demonstrating the efficacy of statins in acute brain injury models that recapitulate the heterogeneous pathology of clinical TBI. Animal studies have defined mechanisms by which statins may improve outcomes after TBI and should guide statin choice and dosing paradigm for clinical translation."

A more general paper is:- Statins and Brain Dysfunction

This should be an interesting paper, but only the abstract is free:-  How do statins control neuroinflammation?


Statins are among the world’s top selling drugs.  With so many people using them, there are of course reported side effects; but as drugs go, the side effects look pretty minimal.  Those at high risk of heart disease, such as those with Type 1 diabetes, are routinely prescribed statins even from a relatively early age.

It has been claimed that autistic people are already at higher risk of heart disease, due to their low level of good cholesterol (HDL) and sometimes higher level of bad cholesterol (LDL). The research is not 100% consistent; but it is very easy to go and check your child's cholesterol.  Holding him still while they draw the blood is another story ....

So it would appear there is one and maybe two very good reasons for autistic people to take statins.

Click below to see Part 2, to decide which statin to choose (there are many).