Showing posts with label Encephalopathy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Encephalopathy. Show all posts

Saturday, 13 November 2021

From PANS to PANDAS? Another Problem Solved


Source: EpiphanyASD


There is a lot written about PANS (Pediatric Acute-onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome) and PANDAS (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections) which is a subset of PANS; however they are still not fully recognized as medical conditions.

I prefer to see PANS/PANDAS in the broader context of autoimmune encephalitis, a collection of related conditions in which the body's immune system mistakenly attacks the brain, causing inflammation. The immune system produces antibodies that mistakenly attack heathy receptors in the brain.  Depending on which types of receptors are targeted, you will get different symptoms, plus you will get symptoms from the inflammation.

If they are NMDA receptors, you may have hallucinations and appear to have developed schizophrenia overnight.

It has been suggested that the definition of PANS is too narrow and a broader term called CANS was proposed.  CANS is not exactly the same as PANS.  PANS is the popular term in the US.

“A 2011 paper by Singer proposed a new, "broader concept o childhood acute neuropsychiatric symptoms (CANS)", removing some of the PANDAS criteria in favor or requiring only acute-onset. Singer said there were "numerous causes for CANS", which was proposed because of the "inconclusive and conflicting scientific support" for PANDAS, including "strong evidence suggesting the absence of an important role for GABHS, a failure to apply published [PANDAS] criteria, and a lack of scientific support for proposed therapies".

Moving from PANDAS to CANS (pay-walled)

I do not see why the focus is always on children, because we know that adults can also be affected.

In children and adults with autism it seems that quite often they may suddenly develop verbal or motor tics, as the obvious symptom of autoimmune encephalitis.  These tics gradually disappear when treated with a short course of oral steroids.

One point emphasized by the likes of Susan Swedo, at the US National Institute of Mental Health, is that PANS/PANDAS is not autism.

Non-autistic children can develop PANS/PANDAS, but so can autistic people.

A non-autistic child with untreated PANS/PANDAS would appear to most people as autistic, so similar are the symptoms.

An adult with NMDA receptors encephalitis will very likely be diagnosed as schizophrenic.

The autistic person who develops PANS/PANDAS appears like an autistic person who has encountered a regression. Many of the symptoms of PANS/PANDAS are common symptoms of autism, so the onset of PANS/PANDAS may just look like the already present symptoms have gotten worse.

Susan Swedo has commented that there is nothing to suggest PANS/PANDAS is more common in children with autism. She states that PANS/PANDAS is a condition of onset in early childhood, which is likely to reoccur when re-exposed to the same trigger, but reoccurrence is much less of a risk after 21 years old.

I think most cases of PANS/PANDAS in people with severe autism are never diagnosed and so never treated.  It is just put down as an autistic regression.  How many of those adults with severe autism and extremely challenging behaviors fall into this category?  Given the enormous cost, up to half a million dollars a year, to house this type of person in a care facility with 24-hour support, you would think a little bit more effort should be given to early diagnosis and treatment.


A Sceptical World

One of our neurologist readers commented in this blog about how she successfully treated her child’s PANS episode, even though in her country PANS does not exist as a diagnosis and her colleagues at work had no idea how to treat it. Quick intervention required only minor treatment.

In some countries with free universal healthcare, you only get to diagnose and treat PANS if you go outside that system and pay extra.

In the US there are some pretty expensive tests proposed for PANS and CANS.

In mainstream medicine PANS/PANDAS are not generally accepted as conditions and yet Stanford University has had a PANS/PANDAS clinic for a decade.


Time for detective work


The usual issue I have to manage in spring/summer is what I call summertime raging and dumber in the summer.  Note that a cognitive regression is a very common symptom of PANS/PANDAS.

My solution to summertime raging and dumber in the summer revolves around allergy, mast cells and reducing pro-inflammatory cytokines.

This year some new symptoms developed after summer:

·        Sensory amplification, in the form of sound sensitivity

·        Clinginess to Mum/Mom and separation anxiety

·        Hair twirling, using fingers to twist hair

·        Nail picking, the medical term is Onychotillomania

·        General anxiety

·        Increased urinary frequency, not due to a UTI (urinary tract infection)

·        Aggression and reactive rage (as opposed to predatory rage)

·        Mood disorder, crying for no apparent reason at school and home 

All the above symptoms can be passed off as autism.

Sound sensitivity is a common problem in autism, but Monty was getting so sensitive to sounds that he could not tolerate sitting next to someone eating at home. At school, where it is very noisy, this was not a problem.

Clinginess to Mum/Mom rather merged with the aggression and reactive rage symptoms.  Aggression is a very common problem in severe autism and it is usually directed mainly at Mum.  This time it was not just behaviors, but talking in advance about potential aggressive behaviors, this was new and got worse and worse.

Hair twirling has occurred before and is a common expression of anxiety, which then just becomes a habit, like a stim or tic.  This was previously resolved by a haircut.  This time the short hair did not solve the issue.

Nail picking (Onychotillomania) is when use your index finger to pick at the cuticle on your thumb and end up tearing the skin. This is rather like compulsive hair pulling (Trichotillomania) which is a common feature of OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder).  NAC is used to treat Trichotillomania. 

Anxiety is nearly always an issue in all levels of autism. 

The urinary symptoms of PANS/PANDAS are something that I had not paid attention to earlier. 

We covered polydipsia, drinking too much water, in a special post. This is a big problem for some readers of this blog. 

Thirst – Too much or too little (Polydipsia and Hypodipsia) Vasopressin and Angiotensin

People taking Bumetanide for autism will drink a lot, but should do so only in the few hours after taking the therapy, not all day long.

Autistic people with polydipsia are at risk of death due to low sodium levels (hyponatremia).

Monty was drinking so much I was giving him additional sodium and potassium.

Children with autism often use toilet breaks as an escape from whatever task they have been given.  Monty’s assistant had commented on how he seemed to be trying to escape from her.

The mood disorder was very marked and on one occasion Monty cried at school; his classmates were worried about him and did their best to comfort him.  This had never happened before and there was no apparent trigger. The same thing happened at home a few times, normally in the evening.

After a gradual worsening of the above symptoms, Monty had a viral infection, and he informed us that he had a sore throat. Behaviors then got significantly worse and he had a week off school, more for the behaviours than for the mild flu-like symptoms.  Having then announced that his ear was hurting, we took him to the Ear Nose and Throat doctor. To get to see the doctor you first have to go and get a negative Covid test. The diagnosis was a mild ear infection that might not need an antibiotic, but if it got worse take the antibiotic (Cefpodoxime). This is a β-lactam antibiotic. 

We did cover the non-antibiotic properties of this class of antibiotic in a dedicated post, since many antibiotics have profound anti-inflammatory and other effects not related to killing bacteria.  You can never know with 100% certainty which effect is giving you the benefit.


Autism and Non-Antibiotic Properties of Common Beta-lactam Antibiotics



For anyone interested in trivia. The aerobic mold which forms the basis of this antibiotic, cephalosporin C, was found in the sea near a sewage outfall by Cagliari harbour in Sardinia, by the Italian pharmacologist Giuseppe Brotzu in July 1945. 

If you like sandy beaches like Monty, Sardinia is a great place to visit. Cagliari is in the south, the famous part of Sardinia is Costa Smeralda, on the northern coast, where the celebs go to be seen.

Since Monty’s problem was more behavioral than due to pain in his ear, we started the antibiotic without delay.

Over 5 days, the behaviors began to improve and on day 6 the hair twirling vanished entirely for a day, so clearly something new was going on in his brain.

The mood disorder switched to occasional extreme laughter/happiness, rather than the previous tears.

The behavioral regression started well before the viral infection and ear infection, so it is not just a simple case of a sore throat and a strep infection.

Are all the above symptoms due to PANS/PANDAS?

There actually is a 100% overlap between Monty’s recent symptoms and a list of possible PANS/PANDAS symptoms. Every symptom I listed is on the doctor’s checklist below: -


Description of PANS Symptoms


Description of PANS Symptoms

1) OCD

Traditional OCD presents with mild obsessions and compulsions that become more involved and burdensome over time. In traditional OCD, symptoms tend to be persistent with minor variance in symptoms (often referred to as a waxing and waning). In contrast, PANS OCD presents with a sudden onset typically from mild or no symptoms to debilitating in an abrupt amount of time. Often, parents recall the exact date of symptom onset, and frequently report “it just came on out of the blue.”


Many compulsions are either mental rituals (and therefore difficult to observe) or appear as extremes of an acceptable behavior (e.g., compulsive handwashing). Common OCD rituals in children include: washing/grooming, checking (locks, door), counting, ordering/symmetry, hoarding, restrictive eating, and repetitive questioning.


Emerging research suggests different treatment options are available for children with PANS OCD than for children with non-PANS OCD. Understanding the difference between the two forms of OCD allows appropriate interventions to be implemented.


2) Eating Restriction

PANS children describe various reasons for not eating normally or adequately, such as: fear of vomiting, sensitivity to taste, smell, and texture, fear food is spoiled, or fear of being poisoned. In some cases, the restricted eating is directly related to body image distortions, including concerns about being overweight (even when the child is normal weight and was previously satisfied with their body habitus.)


3) Anxiety

Anxiety frequently presents as constant, generalized anxiety or age-inappropriate separation anxiety.


4) Sensory Amplification

PANS children may become uncharacteristically and intensely bothered by smells, tastes, sounds, and textures, causing difficulties with daily routines, such as brushing teeth, riding in a car, eating, and dressing.


5) Motor Abnormalities

PANS children may exhibit motor and vocal tics, handwriting changes and/or clumsiness.


6) Behavioral Regression

PANS children may display regressed behaviors, such as: baby talk, refusal to carry out age-appropriate grooming activities, tantrums, clinginess, and/or separation anxiety.


7) Deterioration in School Performance

Psychological testing of children with PANDAS, a subset of PANS where strep is the infectious trigger, has found impairments on a visual-spatial recall test, on measures of executive function, and on a dexterity test. PANS children may also experience a decreased processing speed, memory issues, and/or difficulty in math and calculation.


8) Mood Disorder

Depression, mania, irritability, hypersexuality, emotional lability, and rage have been noted during a PANS exacerbation. Moods may change from happy to sad to angry in moments. Reactive rage (as oppose to predatory rage) may start instantaneously and stop as quickly, leaving the child remorseful and confused.


9) Urinary Symptoms

An initial complaint may be urinary frequency. A careful history will often expose additional symptoms. PANS children may develop polyuria (up to many times per hour), frequent urges to urinate, and/or day and night secondary enuresis. These urinary symptoms are not due to UTI, anxiety or OCD type worries.


10) Sleep Disturbances

Polysomnography has demonstrated a variety of sleep abnormalities in children with PANS, including initial and middle insomnia, REM behavior disorder, parasomnias, and/or sleep phase shifting. 


Since I did introduce the term CANS, here is a comparison of PANDAS, PANS and CANS from a recent Italian paper:- 

CANS: Childhood acute neuropsychiatric syndromes


Table 1 - Criteria for PANDAS, PANS, and CANS 



1. Presence of OCD and/or a tic disorder

2. Pediatric onset (Symptoms of the disorder first become evident between 3 years of age and the puberty.)

3. Episodic course of symptom severity Abrupt onset of symptoms or dramatic symptom exacerbations. Often, the onset of a specific symptom exacerbation can be assigned to a particular day or week, at which time the symptoms seemed to ‘‘explode’’ in severity. Symptoms usually decrease significantly between episodes and occasionally resolve completely between exacerbations.

4. Association with Streptococcal infection Symptom exacerbations must be temporally related to Streptococcal infection

5. Association with neurological abnormalities During symptom exacerbations, patients will have abnormal results on neurological examination. Motor hyperactivity and adventitious movements



1. Abrupt, dramatic onset of OCD or severely restricted food intake

2. Concurrent presence of additional neuropsychiatric symptoms, with similarly severe and acute onset, from at least two of the following seven categories

1) Anxiety

2) Emotional lability and/or depression

3) Irritability, aggression and/or severely oppositional behaviors

4) Behavioral (developmental) regression

5) Deterioration in school performance

6) Sensory or motor abnormalities

7) Somatic signs and symptoms, including sleep disturbances, enuresis or urinary frequency.

3. Symptoms are not better explained by a known neurologic or medical disorder (Such as Sydenham's chorea, systemic lupus erythematosus, Tourette disorder, or others).


Idiopathic CANS

Acute onset before age 18 of behavioral and motor signs encompassing

1. Primary criterion OCD

2. Secondary criteria

1) Anxiety

2) Psychosis

3) Developmental regression

4) Sensitivity to sensory stimuli

5) Emotional lability

6) Tics

7) Dysgraphia

8) Clumsiness

9) Hyperactivity

3. Mono- or polyphasic cours


Susan Swedo advises to treat PANDAS with 3 weeks of antibiotics.

Monty’s 2 previous cases of sudden onset motor/verbal tics were resolved by 5 days of Prednisone.  This is a common therapy for a PANS flare-up.  There is a study from Stanford on its benefit.  The sooner you use this therapy, the greater the benefit.

The most important thing with all forms of autoimmune encephalitis seems to be speedy treatment so the condition does not become chronic.  Then you have to use much more invasive and expensive therapies like IVIG and Plasmapheresis.

It is clear that PANS/PANDAS is likely to reoccur.

In Monty’s case the first two instances were very similar.  They were both acute onset tics. The third instance was very different.

Given that Monty’s antibiotic very obviously had a behavioral benefit, we will follow Swedo’s advice and continue for 3 weeks, which is 2 weeks longer than the standard ear infection therapy.

The short course of Prednisone will hopefully complete the therapy and life will go back to normal.

I recall that our neurologist reader, with those sceptical colleagues, did not even need steroids to resolve her child’s problems, NSAIDs were sufficient.  The sooner you treat the symptoms, the less potent the therapy needs to be and the more effective it seems to be.  Some people commence treatment years after the symptoms emerge.



One conclusion to this post might have been along the lines of “My god, whatever next?” as if autism brings never-ending problems.

I rather see it as, why did it take me so long to recognize the symptoms?

The answer to that one is that PANS/PANDAS/CANS, or indeed the broader Autoimmune encephalitis, is a family of conditions.  Just because you saw one set of broad symptoms earlier, does not mean you will not face a different subset of symptoms next time.

The urinary symptoms of PANS were a surprise and worth highlighting.

Autistic regressions should be investigated and treated.

On the one hand, doctors, particularly in the US, do like expensive diagnostic tests.  They want certainly and often struggle to treat ill-defined conditions that they have not been taught about.  They prefer not to tinker around, in fact tinkering is frowned upon.

On the other hand, when very expensive testing is done and it identifies in someone a combination of rare genetic dysfunctions associated with autism, nobody thinks to look up each gene and see how to compensate for the usual loss of function - that does not seem to count as medicine.  The genetic diagnosis is crystal clear, but the therapy would definitely require some tinkering around, to perfect it.  But, such tinkering is so frowned upon that the “specialist” just stands well clear and moves on to the next patient.   

Tinkering around is an essential part of fixing practical problems.

In my case of autism, I have not paid $925 for the Cunningham Panel of PANS/PANDAS tests, or even a strep test, or a urine culture test.

The cost of treating the 2 apparent PANS episodes in previous years was about $5 dollars each time.  The cost of the current episode was more, about $15, plus the cost of a visit to the ENT doctor and the required Covid test.  Our neurologist reader likely spent even less for her NSAIDs.

PANDAS, PANS, CANS or just autoimmune encephalopathy, it does not really matter what you call it, prompt intervention will likely resolve the symptoms.


Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Autism, a Dynamic Encephalopathy, Indeed


With a title like that, not many people will stumble upon this post with Google.
So, for the hard-core of readers, today I am going to develop an idea of Martha Herbert, the pediatric neuroscientist from Harvard, who writes a lot about autism.
Incidentally, most researchers do not like publicity, and particularly those looking at autism.  Martha, herself makes some side remarks as to why this is; as I suggested in earlier posts it dates back 10+ years to a certain Dr Wakefield.

“A further barrier to considering the body’s impact on the brain was the reaction to the work of Wakefield, who argued not only that there was a link  between  autism  and  vaccines  but  also  that  this  link was mediated through the gastrointestinal system. For the better part of a decade any attempt to discuss gastrointestinal or immune issues with autism was construed as a support of Wakefield’s vaccine hypothesis, and it was difficult to discuss, let alone get funding for, clinical or research observations about these problems.  One way around the essentially taboo character of somatic problems in autism was to treat them as coincidental symptoms. For example, one could  talk about gut problems provided one made  it clear that they did not cause the autism in the brain. Improvement after treatment of gut problems, which is often observed, would then be explained as a consequence of reduction of pain and discomfort, but not of any direct impact on core brain mechanisms generating autistic behaviors.”

Another fearless autism researcher, not shy to voice his opinions by blog and tweet, is Paul Whiteley, in Sunderland.   Paul is very much a believer in the role the gut/diet in autism, he and Paul Shattock are the driving force behind the gluten and casein free diet as a therapy for autism.  Given what Martha writes above, and the association between Shattock and Wakefield, is it surprising that the GCF diet remains on the fringes?  I know some parents who wholly endorse it.
Here is a link to one of Martha’s recent works, for Herbert fans:-

Dynamic Encephalopathy
It was Martha who called autism a dynamic Encephalopathy.  Encephalopathy just means a brain disease.

What she means is that over time autism changes, day to day and year to year.  Just as during fever, autism symptoms may wane, other environmental provocations may cause flare ups.  With age come hormonal changes that will inevitably change the central hormonal homeostasis, I hope for the better, as generally is the case.
Other than being a fancy word, Encephalopathy, is probably a much better word than autism.  There are many types of Encephalopathy and there are multiple causes, it refers to a syndrome of global brain dysfunction; this syndrome can have many different organic and inorganic causes.  As with autism the hallmark of encephalopathy is an altered mental state.
Forget Autism think Encephalopathy
If you have not already opened up Wikipedia, I suggest you do.

From my desk research and primary research, I know that one factor behind this encephalophy is chronic inflammation, otherwise known as neuroinflammation.
At this point, we should look at what neuroscience can tell us about neuroinflammation

The Dana Foundation is a private philanthropic organization committed to advancing brain research.  Founded in 1950 and with $230+ million in assets I think they should be a good source.  Here  is an excellent paper, that is written for non-scientists. 

Among the many interesting insights are these:- 
 Until recently the CNS and peripheral immune sys­tem were thought to operate independently.”

However, new research has led to important advances in our understanding of how immune-related events in the periphery can influence CNS processes, thereby altering cognition, mood, and behavior, and these advances are suggesting that inflammation may have important long term implica­tions for the brain.”
 Inflammation in the body can lead to inflammation in the brain”
“The same cytokines that participate in produc­ing the inflammatory response in the body also initiate the communication process to the CNS. They accumu­late in the bloodstream and thereby travel to the brain”
“They cross into the brain in regions where the barrier is weak, and they bind to receptors on the insides of the cerebral vascular blood vessels, thereby inducing the production of soluble mediators within the epithelial cells that can cross into the brain.”
“In addition, there are neural as well as blood-borne communication routes. For example, there are cytokine receptors on nerves, such as the vagus, that innervate peripheral immune organs, and these nerves communicate to the brain and are activated during infection.”
“During a normal infection, neuroinflammation and the resulting adaptive sickness behaviors persist only for several days. However, if these responses become exaggerated or prolonged, the outcomes may well become estab­lished, leading to cognitive impairment instead of brief memory disruption,”
 “… physiology can become pathology when a set of processes designed to be rela­tively brief becomes prolonged.”
“However, peripheral inflammation is highly complex and involves many immune cells and their products. Existing anti-inflammatory drugs often target only one of these. For example, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, inhibit only a hor­mone, prostaglandins, leaving other actors in inflam­mation (cytokines, chemokines, etc.) untouched.”
“A second way that central neuroinflammation could be prolonged is less obvious. The CNS may come to over-respond to the same signal from the peripheral immune system. As noted above, microglia and the cytokines they produce when activated are at the core of the neuroinflammatory response that pro­duces sickness behaviors. If microglia were to become “sensitized,” which means they respond in exagger­ated or prolonged fashion, then sickness behaviors would become intensified and prolonged—pathology instead of physiology.”
“Most encouragingly, studies in numerous animal models show that the development and expression of chronic pain can be blocked with drugs that inhibit either microglial activation within the spinal cord, or the inflammatory cytokines that microglia produce.”
“In addition, microglia also can become sensi­tized without a prolonged peripheral inflammation. For example, aging appears to sensitize microglia so that microglia, particularly in the hippocampus, respond in exaggerated fashion to input. Thus, neuroinflammation produced by surgery, peripheral infection, and the like, is greatly exaggerated in aged subjects. Correspond­ingly, aging also augments the chances of depressive behaviors, cognitive impairments, and pain produced by peripheral inflammatory events. Encouragingly, however, some human studies show that inhibition of microglia and cytokines in the brain blunts such patho­logical outcomes.”
“Blockade of inflammation in the periphery and microglial activation/cytokine action in the CNS, may well become important therapies for a range of disorders not often thought of as mediated by these factors.”

There is nothing new to me in the Dana paper; this in itself is rather a shock.  If you have followed my blog from the start, you should also not be surprised; but I have never seen quite so much scientific good sense written in just four pages.  It tells me a lot and reassures me that I am on the right track with my cytokine blocking therapies, mast cell stabilization and somewhat far fetched, vagus nerve stimmulation ideas.

There are other science-based "inflammation control" therapies and I will be writing about them later.

P.S.  Why no Dean’s List for Martha?
Regular readers of my blog may have noticed that a small number of the several hundred researchers, whose papers are discussed here, are given a pat on the back and moved to the Dean’s List.  Why not Martha?

There is a good reason.  For many years Martha keeps going on about the “Fever Effect” in autism.  This is the strange phenomenon where autistic behaviours abate during fever, i.e. sickness associated with high temperature.  I myself witness this every time Monty, aged 10 with ASD, has a high temperature.  I think that conclusively solving this, might indeed tell us something profound about this wide phenotype of autism.
I think with the resources of Harvard, she should be able to figure this out.  Her TRANSCEND Program gives her a pool of research subjects.

Peter has just one mouse model of autism and, at the age of 10, he is getting a big to be called a mouse.
So Martha, put aside the MRIs and the calcium channelopathies, if you figure it out before me, you get on the Dean’s List.

If I can prove the underlying reason, I will put myself on the Dean’s List.