Showing posts with label RASopathies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label RASopathies. Show all posts

Thursday 22 June 2023

Autism Research Merry-go-round Keeps Turning


Today’s post again shows that many issues raised in previous posts keep on coming back  is that good news? Only you can decide.

I start with the “old chestnut” (English idiom to imply “a tired old story”) of the Autism Tsunami. 

Then we see what has come up in the world of autism interventions in the research in the last 3 weeks, most of which regular readers will already be aware of.

·        Autism Tsunami – real or not?

·        Vitamin D

·        Bumetanide

·        Ibudilast

·        Niclosamide

·         Non-invasive brain stimulation

·         Simvastatin 

I noted the research about autism incidence coming from Northern Ireland because it was published in the Belfast News Letter.  These days it has a tiny subscription, but I am one of those who know it is the world's oldest English-language general daily newspaper still in publication, having first been printed in 1737. In 1972 a bomb warning was called in to the paper's office and, as people evacuated, an explosion went off nearby killing several people and injuring many more. Back in the early 1990s, when some people in Northern Ireland were still blowing up others with bombs, I made a visit to Northern Ireland to meet the management of this newspaper. 

Their recent article on autism incidence is very well researched considering how only about 8,000 copies are published. Keep up the good work!

Idea that 5% of all Northern Ireland's children are autistic is 'a fantasy' claims international expert

Professor Laurent Mottron was speaking to the News Letter following a claim that the rate of autism in Northern Ireland is double the rate in the rest of the UK.

Back in 2019 Prof Mottron had authored a report warning about a tsunami of over-diagnosis, saying that soon "the definition of autism may get too vague to be meaningful, trivializing the condition"

“If this trend holds, the objective difference between people with autism and the general population will disappear in less than 10 years," he had said then – and has now indicated that this “fuzziness” is what’s helping swell the numbers in Northern Ireland.

Meanwhile Jill Escher, the president of the National Council on Severe Autism, takes a different view.

She says that evidence indicates the "skyrocketing" rate of autism in Northern Ireland is real, adding: "It boggles my mind that it is not the subject of the highest possible alarm and inquiry."

"One in 20 children in Northern Ireland of school age has a diagnosis of autism," he told MPs.

"[It is] one in 57 in the rest of the UK. The need in Northern Ireland is significantly different."

To put that in perspective, that would mean 5% of Northern Irish children are diagnosed with autism, compared with 1.8% in the rest of the UK.

Prof Mottron, a psychiatrist based at Montreal University, told the News Letter "numbers such as 5% are pure fantasy... these numbers correspond to the part of the general population which has less overt socialisation, which has minimally to do with prototypical autism". 

There is a "current fuzziness of autism diagnosis and over-inclusivity," he said, leading to "a situation of perfect confusion between autistic traits and prototypical autism" (that is, mixing up people who exhibit some tendencies of autistic people with people who actually have the full-blown condition). 

"The scientific 'quasi consensus' would be around 1% everywhere on the planet,” he added.


So on one side we have Jill Escher and her NCSA and on the other we have a French/Canadian researcher.  This time Laurent Mottron but in my blog posts I quoted Éric Fombonne.

A paper that was mentioned both in my blog and critiqued by Jill about autism incidence and cost just got retracted.  In reality a better word is “cancelled.”  The 3 authors are very much in the politically incorrect camp of the autism debate.

I was surprised it ever got published.  

Controversial ‘cost of autism’ paper retracted 

Citing methodological issues and undeclared conflicts of interest, an autism journal has retracted a paper that forecast the prevalence and cost of autism.

The retraction note, posted last week, comes two years after Spectrum reported on backlash surrounding the paper, which was published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders in July 2021. A month after publication, the journal added an editor’s note that the study was under investigation because of criticisms of its conclusions. 

“I am glad to see that it was retracted, although at a pace that maybe is a bit frustrating in terms of how long it took. But it was the right choice,” says Brittany Hand, associate professor of health and rehabilitation sciences at Ohio State University in Columbus.

Outside experts who reviewed the paper on the journal’s behalf found that it misrepresented the rise in autism diagnoses and gave “insufficient attention” to some potential causes of the increase, such as improved surveillance and changes to the diagnostic criteria. The authors also used “higher estimates and assumptions that inflated costs,” according to the retraction note.

The authors — Mark Blaxill, Toby Rogers and Cynthia Nevison — all disagree with the journal’s decision, the note also says.

The cancelled paper is here:-

Autism Tsunami: the Impact of Rising Prevalence on the Societal Cost of Autism in the United States


I assume Blaxill was the driving force behind all the math, because he is the ex- management consultant, with a son with severe autism that his dad attributes to vaccines.

What I found bizarre in their paper was that they has a prevention scenario, based on what they think has already happened in rich parts of California, where they think autism incidence is falling.  It is not falling, all that is happening is that wealthy Californians are paying for treatment using insurance or their own money, and no longer burdening the State.

The “rainbow” researchers that wanted the paper retracted think that preventing autism is akin to eugenics and Dr Mengele. According to Peter, treating autism is good, while Dr Josef Mengele, byname Todesengel (German: “Angel of Death”) was as bad as you can get.    

Jill Escher and her NCSA think that you cannot prevent autism.  According to Peter, you can both minimize the incidence and severity of autism. 

A bugbear of our reader Tanya is that the NCSA have a pet hate of facilitated communication and in particular the rapid prompting method (RPM). This method worked for Tanya’s son and it opened the door to independent, un-facilitated communication. 

Always keep an open mind.




“our Prevention scenario is based on real rates observed among wealthy white and Asian children in the California DDS.  Severe ASD prevalence has flattened and even declined among these children since birth year 2000, suggesting that wealthy parents have been making changes that effectively lower their children’s risk of developing ASD. The Prevention scenario assumes that these parental strategies and opportunities already used by wealthy parents to lower their children’s risk of ASD can be identified and made available rapidly to lower income children and ethnic minorities, who are currently experiencing the most rapid growth in ASD prevalence”


New Paper Makes Case that Autism Tsunami May Threaten American Economy

A major weakness in the analysis was the “Prevention Scenario” in which future costs were projected based on “what might be possible if strategies for reducing ASD risk are identified and addressed in the near future.” As I think everyone knows, at this time there is no way to prevent autism. But the authors use the observation that autism in the DDS is declining among wealthier white families, and thus “suggesting that wealthy parents have been making changes that effectively lower their children’s risk of developing ASD.” No, it’s far more likely that wealthier families are not entering their children into the system because they access services through insurance and school districts instead.


Vitamin D as a cause of autism has been discussed for decades.  As the title below puts it – a never-ending story. Our reader Seth Bittker even wrote a paper about it. He later wrote a paper about the use Acetaminophen/Paracetamol in children under two as a risk factor in developing autism. Good work Seth!


Maternal Vitamin D deficiency and brain functions: a never-ending story 

A large number of observational studies highlighted the prevalence rates of vitamin D insufficiency and deficiency in many populations as pregnant women. Vitamin D is well known to have a crucial role in differentiation and proliferation, as well as neurotrophic and neuroprotective actions in brain. Then, this micronutrient can modulate the neurotransmission and synaptic plasticity. Recent results from animal and epidemiological studies indicated that maternal vitamin D deficiency is associated with a wide range of neurobiological disease including autism, schizophrenia, depression, multiple sclerosis or developmental defect. The aim of this review is to provide a state of the art on the effect of maternal vitamin D deficiency on brain functions and development.

4.2.2. Autism

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex neurodevelopmental disease with repetitive behaviour and difficulties in social interaction, communication and learning. Several murine studies and cohorts have demonstrated that early exposure to low levels of VD during pregnancy could be a risk factor for ASD. In 2019, Ali et al. aimed to find out the impact of a maternal VDD on early postnatal, adolescent and adult offspring. By assessing righting reflex and negative geotaxis, they found out that the pups from deficient dams showed a delay in their motor development. P12 rats from deficient females also exhibited increased ultrasound vocalization indicating an alteration in their vocal communication. Adolescent and young adult rats displayed an altered stereotyped repetitive behaviour as they had a reduced digging behaviour. Adolescent rats had less social interaction with longer latency to interact, which was not found in adult rats; however, adults were more hyperactive but showed no anxiety like behaviour.  In another animal study, maternal VDD induced an increase in the vocalizations of the pups accompanied with a decrease in cortical FoxP2, decrease in social behaviour and impaired learning and memory were observed in adult males (Table 1). Using data from the Stockholm youth cohort, Magnusson et al. examined a population of 4-17-year-old children exposed to low levels of VD during gestation and was able to report a positive association between maternal VDD and ASD. Analysing the same cohort, Lee et al. suggested that high levels of VD during pregnancy were associated with a moderate decrease in risk of ASD in the offspring. A prospective study of a multi-ethnic cohort in the Netherlands (generation R study) has also shown an association between maternal mid-gestation VDD and a two-fold increase in the risk of autism in children (Table 2). Interestingly, VD supplementation seems to clinically improve ASD symptoms of affected children.


People do associate this blog with Bumetanide.  Yet another paper has been published showing the benefits of this therapy for autism.


EEG-based brain connectivity analysis in autism spectrum disorder: Unravelling the effects of bumetanide treatment 



·        We investigated the nonlinear brain connectivity and topological changes in brain networks of people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) after a three-month course of bumetanide treatment.

·        We found statistically significant differences between pre and post intervention in the connectivity patterns using repeated measures analysis of variance (ANOVA).

·        We found that the number of strong connections in response to sad image stimuli seem to be less compared with that of the other two stimuli, especially in the central area.

·        We found that the changes in brain connectivity between pre and post intervention is more significant in response to sad image stimuli.


Emerging evidence suggests that cognitive impairment associated with brain network disorders in people with autism could be improved with medications such as bumetanide. However, the extent to which bumetanide is effective in improving brain function in these individuals has not been adequately studied. The main purpose of this study is to investigate the nonlinear brain connectivity and topological changes in brain networks of people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) after a three-month course of bumetanide treatment. We used electroencephalography (EEG) data of nine participants recorded during the face emotion recognition activity in two stages before and after bumetanide treatment. Brain connectivity matrix was calculated using a neural network-based estimator. Graph criteria and statistical tests have been used to determine the effects of bumetanide treatment on children and adolescents with autism. Bumetanide treatment significantly alters the brain connectivity networks based on stimuli type. Differences in brain connectivity related to the sad stimuli are more significant. The most of the significant changes of the strength graph metric was in the occipital electrodes and electrodes related to the right hemisphere. These results suggest that bumetanide may affect effective connectivity and be used a promising treatment for improving social interactions in patients with autism. It also suggests that brain connectivity patterns can be considered as a neural marker to be used in the development of new therapies. 

I have also covered in sometimes painful details the potential to treat autism and increase cognitive function using PDE (Phosphodiesterase) inhibitors. One of our psychiatrist readers is a huge fan of Pentoxifylline and takes it himself.

I was recently asked how to obtain Ibudilast.  It is approved in Japan as an asthma drug. Sometimes it is called Ketas and you can get it from an “International Pharmacy” in Germany/Switzerland if you have a prescription. 

I also wrote about repurposing Roflumilast, which as Daxas is approved all over the world as a therapy for severe asthma (COPD). This drug at a 1/5th dose has been patented as a cognitive enhancer.


Phosphodiesterase inhibitor, ibudilast alleviates core behavioral and biochemical deficits in the prenatal valproic acid exposure model of autism spectrum disorder


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is categorized as a neurodevelopmental disorder, presenting with a variety of aetiological and phenotypical features. Ibudilast is known to produce beneficial effects in several neurological disorders including neuropathic pain, multiple sclerosis, etc. by displaying its neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory properties. Here, in our study, the pharmacological outcome of ibudilast administration was investigated in the prenatal valproic acid (VPA)-model of ASD in Wistar rats.


Autistic-like symptoms were induced in Wistar male pups of dams administered with Valproic acid (VPA) on embryonic day 12.5. VPA-exposed male pups were administered with two doses of ibudilast (5 and10 mg/kg) and all the groups were evaluated for behavioral parameters like social interaction, spatial memory/learning, anxiety, locomotor activity, and nociceptive threshold. Further, the possible neuroprotective effect of ibudilast was evaluated by assessing oxidative stress, neuroinflammation (IL-1β, TNF-α, IL-6, IL-10) in the hippocampus, % area of Glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP)-positive cells and neuronal damage in the cerebellum.

Key findings: Treatment with ibudilast significantly attenuated prenatal VPA exposure associated social interaction and spatial learning/memory deficits, anxiety, hyperactivity, and increased nociceptive threshold, and it decreased oxidative stress markers, pro-inflammatory markers (IL-1β, TNF-α, IL-6), and % area of GFAP-positive cells and restored neuronal damage.


Ibudilast treatment has restored crucial ASD-related behavioural abnormalities, potentially through neuroprotection. Therefore, benefits of ibudilast administration in animal models of ASD suggest that ibudilast may have therapeutic potential in the treatment of ASD.



I have also written widely about repurposing certain anti-parasite medicines to treat autism. This is not because I think parasites cause autism, it is the secondary modes of action.



Repurposing Niclosamide as a plausible neurotherapeutic in autism spectrum disorders, targeting mitochondrial dysfunction: a strong hypothesis



Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are a complex set of neurodevelopmental manifestations which present in the form of social and communication deficits. Affecting a growing proportion of children worldwide, the exact pathogenesis of this disorder is not very well understood, and multiple signaling pathways have been implicated. Among them, the ERK/MAPK pathway is critical in a number of cellular processes, and the normal functioning of neuronal cells also depends on this cascade. As such, recent studies have increasingly focused on the impact this pathway has on the development of autistic symptoms. Improper ERK signaling is suspected to be involved in neurotoxicity, and the same might be implicated in autism spectrum disorders (ASD), through a variety of effects including mitochondrial dysfunction and oxidative stress. Niclosamide, an antihelminthic and anti-inflammatory agent, has shown potential in inhibiting this pathway, and countering the effects shown by its overactivity in inflammation. While it has previously been evaluated in other neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease, as well as various cancers by targeting ERK/MAPK, it’s efficacy in autism has not yet been evaluated. In this article, we attempt to discuss the potential role of the ERK/MAPK pathway in the pathogenesis of ASD, specifically through mitochondrial damage, before moving to the therapeutic potential of niclosamide in the disorder, mediated by the inhibition of this pathway and its detrimental effects of neuronal development.


Note that in earlier posts I explored RASopathies as potentially treatable types of intellectual disability (ID). We also have RAS-dependent cancers as a discrete treatable sub-type of cancer.

The ERK/MAPK pathway is known to interact with multiple genes that have been implicated in autism, and genome-wide association analysis of the same have supported these findings. As such, a dysregulation of this pathway has been found to result in many CNS disorders, including ASD-related syndromes, in many studies. These syndromes are collectively known as Rasopathies, due to the fact that the affected genes include those encoding for elements which function together with Ras, a G-protein responsible for activating ERKs (Levitt and Campbell 2009; Tidyman and Rauen 2009). It has been found that ASD is linked to the occurrence of many Rasopathies, and there have been multiple reports suggesting the possible relation of ERK/MAPK pathway defects with the incidence of ASD (Vithayathil et al. 2018; Aluko et al. 2021)⁠⁠. Moreover, a detailed study has found that single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the ERK/MAPK-related genes are more common in subjects presenting with idiopathic ASD.


Niclosamide is an FDA-approved antihelminthic drug which is routinely used to treat tapeworm infections by inhibiting their mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation and ATP production. In addition, it has long been known to have significant immunomodulating activity, and has been shown to inhibit a number of signaling pathways, including the Wingless-related integration site (Wnt)/β-catenin, nuclear factor kappa B (Nf-κB), signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 (STAT3), and mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) (Chen et al. 2018). However, while these targets are known to be rather well-characterized in terms of the effect that niclosamide has on them, there are also other targets, including the phosphoinositode 3 kinase/Akt (PI3K/Akt) and ERK/MAPK pathways, that are seen to be downregulated by the agent. Hence, given the possible relation of the ERK pathway in autism, there has been interest in the potential role of niclosamide in the management of the prognosis of ASD. This article aims to discuss the possible therapeutic benefit of niclosamide in the treatment of autism spectrum disorders.


Now I know that parents like the idea of treating autism with various gadgets you can strap on to your head  things like Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS). I must say I liked my old post on Photobiomodulation/cold laser/low level laser therapy.

Epiphany: Low Level Laser Therapy (LLLT) for Autism – seems to work in Havana

From China we have a new round-up paper, but the full text does not yet seem to be ready.


Non-invasive brain stimulation for Patient with Autism A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Objective: To comprehensively evaluate the efficacy of non-invasive brain stimulation (NIBS) in patients with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in randomized controlled trials (RCT),providing reference for future research on the same topic.

Methods:Five databases were searched (Pubmed,Web of science,Medline,Embase and Cochrane library) and track relevant references,Meta-analysis was performed using RevMan 5.3 software.

Results: Twenty-two references(829 participants) were included. The results of meta analysis showed that, NIBS had positive effects on repetitive and stereotypical behaviors, cognitive function and executive function in autistic patients. Most of the included studies had a moderate to high risk of bias, Mainly because of the lack of blinding of subjects and assessors to treatment assignment, as well as the lack of continuous observation of treatment effects.

Conclusions: Available evidence supports an improvement in some aspects of NIBS in patients with ASD. However, due to the quality of the original studies and significant publication bias, these evidences must be treated with caution. Further large multicenter randomized double-blind controlled trials and appropriate follow-up observations are needed to further evaluate the specific efficacy of NIBS in patients with ASD.

Unfortunately, the Chinese have concluded that most of these studies are not reliable. So no laser for me to go out and buy just yet.

No need to dent your bank balance with the next therapy.  We are back to one of the world's most prescribed and therefore affordable drugs, its Simvastatin (Zocor). 

There is masses of information in this blog about the potential to treat sub-types of autism with Atorvastatin, Simvastatin or Lovastatin. They are each slightly different.


Effect of simvastatin on brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)/TrkB pathway in hippocampus of autism rat model 

Purpose: To study the effect of simvastatin on behavioral performance in a rat model of autism, and its effect on hippocampal brain-derived BDNF-TrkB pathway. 

Methods: Twelve rats with valproic acid (VPA)-induced autism were randomly divided into model group and simvastatin group, while six healthy rats served as normal control group. Rats in the simvastatin group received the drug (5 mg/kg) via i.p. route, while rats in model group and normal control group were injected with equivalent volume of normal saline in place of simvastatin. Capacity for interaction and repetitive stereotyped behavior, as well as results of Morris water maze test were determined for each group. The expressions of BDNF-TrkB proteins were assayed with immunoblotting. 

Results: The frequencies of sniffing normal saline, alcohol and rat urine were significantly higher in model and simvastatin rats than in normal rats, but they were significantly lower in simvastatin-treated rats than in model rats (p < 0.05). There was higher duration of turning, jumping and grooming in the model group and simvastatin group than in the normal rats, but the duration was significantly reduced in simvastatin rats, relative to model rats. Escape latency times was significantly longer in model and simvastatin rats than in controls, but number of target quadrant crossings was significantly reduced. However, escape latency time was lower in simvastatin rats than in model rats, but number of target quadrant crossings was significantly higher. The model and simvastatin rats had down-regulated levels of BDNF and TrkB protein, relative to control rats, but there were markedly higher levels of these proteins in simvastatin-treated rats than in model rats. 

Conclusion: Simvastatin improves the behavioral performance of autistic rats by regulating BDNF/TrkB signal axis. This finding may be useful in the development of new drugs for treating autism.



What is the conclusion? Well, I could say give up reading the new research and just read my old posts.  It seems you are not going to miss very much.

Of course, back in the real world, it is true that things do take time to change and after a few decades the leap might be taken from the research to the doctor’s office.

There already is plenty of research on the causes of autism and what steps can be taken by those who want to treat aspects of it.  It is far from a complete picture, but it is enough to get started.  There are no guarantees of success, but if you want 100% certainty you will wait forever.

Saturday 24 June 2017

Modulating Wnt Signaling in Autism and Cancer

In earlier posts I have covered various signaling pathways such as Wnt, mTOR and the unusually sounding Hedgehog.
You can go into huge detail if you want to understand these pathways, or just take a more superficial view. In most cases, things only start to go wrong if you are hypo/hyper (too little/too much) in these pathways.
We saw with mTOR that most people with autism are likely to have too much activity and so might benefit from mTOR inhibition, but a minority will have the opposite status and stand to benefit from more mTOR activity.
When it comes to Wnt signaling the research suggests the same situation. Wnt signaling is likely to be aberrant, but both extremes exist.

Given the large volume of genetic data, analyzing each gene on its own is not a feasible approach and will take years to complete, let alone attempt to use the information to develop novel therapeutics. To make sense of independent genomic data, one approach is to determine whether multiple risk genes function in common signaling pathways that identify signaling “hubs” where risk genes converge. This approach has led to multiple pathways being implicated, such as synaptic signaling, chromatin remodeling, alternative splicing, and protein translation, among many others. In this review, we analyze recent and historical evidence indicating that multiple risk genes, including genes denoted as high-confidence and likely causal, are part of the Wingless (Wnt signaling) pathway. In the brain, Wnt signaling is an evolutionarily conserved pathway that plays an instrumental role in developing neural circuits and adult brain function.
While the human genetic data is an important supporting factor, it is not the only one. There are a number of mouse genetic knockout (KO) models targeting Wnt signaling molecules, describing molecular, cellular, electrophysiological, and behavioral deficits that are consistent with ASD and ID. Furthermore, the genes involved in Wnt signaling are of significant clinical interest because there are a variety of approved drugs that either inhibit or stimulate this pathway.
There are many drugs developed and tested as modulators of Wnt signaling in the cancer field that could potentially be repurposed for developmental cognitive disorders. In cases where a reduction in Wnt signaling is thought to underlie the pathology of the disorder, usage of compounds that elevated canonical Wnt signaling could be applied. An example of this is GSK-3β inhibitors that have failed in cancer trials but may be effective for ASDs and ID (e.g., Tideglusig, identifier: NCT02586935). In cases where elevated Wnt signaling is thought to contribute to disease pathology, there are many potential options to inhibit canonical Wnt signaling using chemicals (Fig. 1) that inhibit the interaction between β-catenin and its targets (e.g., inhibiting β-catenin interaction with the TCF factors), disheveled inhibitors (through targeting of the PDZ domain which generally inhibit the Frizzled–PDZ interaction), and tankyrase inhibitors (e.g., XAV939, which induces the stabilization of axin by inhibiting the poly (ADP)-ribosylating enzymes tankyrase 1 and tankyrase 2)

In recent years, strong autism ties have cropped up for one group of genes in particular: those that make up a well-known signaling pathway called WNT, which also has strong links to cancer. This pathway is especially compelling because some people with autism carry mutations in various members of it, including one of its central players: beta-catenin1. What’s more, studies from the past year indicate that several of the strongest autism candidate genes, including CHD8 and PTEN, interact with this pathway.
“There might be a particular subgroup of genes associated with autism that could all be feeding into or be regulating this pathway,” says Albert Basson, reader in developmental and stem cell biology at King’s College London, who studies CHD8 and WNT. “That clearly has emerged as a relatively major theme over the last few years.”

The connection between cancer and some autism is over-activated pro-growth signaling pathways. Many signaling pathways have growth at one extreme and cell death at the other. In cancer you actually want cell death to suppress tumor growth; in much autism there is also too much growth.  
Many cancers are associated with elevated signaling of mTOR, Wnt and indeed Hedgehog.  These are targets for cancer drug therapy and so there is already a great deal known.
A complication is that in a developmental neurological condition, like autism, it also matters when these signaling pathways were/are disturbed. For example Wnt signaling is known to play a role in dendritic spines and synaptic pruning, some of this is an ongoing process but other parts are competed at an early age, so it would matter when you intervene to modulate these pathways.
Historically cancer therapies involve potent drugs, often with potent side effects, however in recent years there has been growing awareness that some safe existing drugs can have equally potent anti-cancer effects. Many of these drugs are anti-parasite drugs, but even the very widely used diabetes drug Metformin has been shown to have significant anti-cancer effects, not to forget Simvastatin.
Many autism pathways/genes play a role in cancer (RAS, PTEN) and the upstream targets considered in cancer research are also autism targets.  For example many human cancers are RAS dependent and in theory could be treated by a RAS inhibitor, but after decades of looking nobody has found one. So instead scientists go upstream to find another target that will indirectly reduce RAS. This led to the development of PAK1 inhibitors that will reduce RAS.
RAS plays a role in some types of intellectual disability and indeed autism. The collective term is RASopathy.  Logically, drugs that modulate RAS to treat cancer might be helpful in modulating RAS for some autism.
Most types of cancers are complex and so there are multiple potential targets to attack them, but also the same target can have multiple possible approaches. RAS dependent cancers can be targeted via Wnt and even Hedgehog signaling.
This may sound all very complicated but does it have any relevance to autism?
It apparently does because almost all these pathways are known to be disturbed hypo/hyper in autism.  This means that clever insights developed for cancer can be repurposed for autism.

Anti-parasite drugs and Cancer
It is indeed remarkable how many anti-parasite drugs have an anticancer effect and indeed there is a much maligned theory to justify this.

Quite possibly it is just a coincidence.
There are many ways to kill parasites, one of which involves starving them of ATP. ATP is the fuel that is produced in your mitochondria.
Cancer cells and many parasites use a very inefficient way to produce ATP that does not require oxygen. In normal human cells the process followed is known as OXPHOS, by which glucose and oxygen from the blood is converted into ATP (energy) is very efficient. Only when you run low on oxygen, like a marathon runner at the end of the race, can you run into trouble because there is not enough oxygen for OXPHOS.  What happens next is anaerobic respiration, when a different process takes over to make ATP. It is much less efficient and causes lactic acidosis which makes marathon runners' muscles hurt.
A cheap anti-parasite drug Pyrvinium targets anaerobic respiration and starves the parasite of ATP and thus kills it. Another common children’s anti-parasite drug albendazole also works by starving the parasite of ATP.
Other anti-parasite drugs work in different ways.
We already know from the autism trials of Suramin, another anti-parasite drug,  that it works via P2X and P2Y purinergic channels.
Ivermectin  binds to glutamate-gated chloride channels (GluCls) in the membranes of invertebrate nerve and muscle cells, causing increased permeability to chloride ions, resulting in cellular hyper-polarization, followed by paralysis and death.  Fortunately in mammals ivermectin does not cross the BBB.
Ivermectin is also a PAK1 inhibitor and a positive allosteric modulator of P2X7.
Both PAK1 and P2X7 are relevant to many cancers and so not surprisingly research shows that Ivermectin has an anti-cancer effect.
Ivermectin appears to have a positive effect in some autism, but strangely it does not cross the BBB.
Mebendazole is another extremely cheap children’s anti-parasite drug which has remarkable potential anti-cancer properties. It inhibits hedgehog signaling and, via the inhibition of TNIK, it is a Wnt inhibitor.
Unfortunately in the US the private sector has also noticed the anticancer effects of Mebendazole and albendazole and they have recently become astronomically expensive. Mebendazole (MBZ), which costs almost nothing in many countries, now costs hundreds of dollar per dose in the US under the name Emverm. Outside of the US, Mebendazole is OTC in many developed countries. In poor countries it is donated free by big pharma.
In the cancer research they consider taking advantage of the fact that cimetidine (a cheap H2 antihistamine) interacts with Mebendazole to increase its bioavailability. Cimetidine is by chance another generic drug also being considered to be repurposed for cancer.
While some anti-parasite drugs like Suramin have side effects or cannot be taken regularly like Ivermectin, others are seen as safe for continued use even at high doses (e.g. Mebendazole and albendazole).  

Anti-parasite drugs and Autism
Just as many anti-parasite drugs seem to have a positive effect on some cancers it looks likely that the same may be true for autism.  This does not mean that parasites cause either cancer or autism.
We know from Professor Naviaux that some people respond to Suramin.
Two people who comment on this blog have found their child responds to PAK1 inhibitors, one of which is the drug Ivermectin.
There are groups of people on the internet who think parasites cause autism and you will find some of them if you google “autism mebendazole”, but there are some very valid reasons why some people’s autism may respond to mebendazole, but nothing to do with little worms.

Potency of Anticancer drugs
Failed anticancer drugs are already considered as possible drugs to treat neurological conditions.
The same pathways do seem to be involved in some cancer and some neurological conditions, but the severity by which that pathway is affected may be very different, so a new drug may lack potency to treat a type of cancer but be potent enough to benefit others.
In the case of the anti-parasite drugs Ivermectin and indeed mebendazole the dosage being used in current cancer studies are very much higher than normally used.
Very little mebendazole makes its way out of your intestines and so researchers counter this by using a dose 15 times higher and even taking advantage of the interaction with the H2 antagonist cimetidine to boost bioavailability.
The standard human dose of Ivermectin is 3mg, but in the cancer trials (IVINCA trial - IVermectin IN CAncer) in Switzerland and Spain the trial dose is 12, 30 and 60 mg.
So when it comes to autism and the possible repurposing of these drugs, the cancer studies will give valuable safety information, but the likely dose required to fine-tune these signaling pathways will likely be a tiny fraction of the cancer dose.
The newly developed cancer drugs that fail in clinical trials, may have potential in autism but it is unlikely that anyone will develop them, test them and bring them to the market.
The clever thing for autism seems to be to keep an eye on the existing generic drugs considered to benefit the overlapping cancer pathways.

Aberrant Wnt signaling has been identified by researchers as playing a key role in autism; the Simons Foundation is among those now funding further research.

In practical terms you can be either hypo or hyper, but hyper seems more likely. It may be a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted, because the ideal time to modulate Wnt signaling is probably as a baby, or before. Nonetheless some older people may indeed benefit from modulating Wnt; the Simons Foundation must also believe so.
In the case of people with hyperactive Wnt signaling, there is a case to make for the potential use of the cheap anti-parasite drug Mebendazole.
The drug Mebendazole (MBZ) can found in three states/polymorphs called Polymorph A, B or C. This is relevant because they do not cross the blood brain barrier to the same extent.

To treat brain tumors, or indeed potentially some autism, you need MBZ-B or MBZ-C, it looks like MBZ-A does not cross the blood brain barrier.
Fortunately, MBZ-C is  the polymorph found most commonly in generic mebendazole tablets.  
Ivermectin is known not to cross the blood brain barrier but yet has been shown to show anti-tumor activity in brain cancer. The anti-cancer effect is thought to be as a PAK1 inhibitor, but this effect must be occurring outside the brain. Some people do use Ivermectin for autism.
The people using Ivermectin for autism are told they cannot use it continuously. Perhaps as the high dose cancer trials evolve the safety advice may change.

Friday 19 August 2016

PAK inhibitors and potentially treating some Autism using Grandpa’s Medicine Cabinet

I wrote several posts about why PAK1 inhibitors should be beneficial in some autism and indeed some schizophrenia.

We also saw that PAK1-blocking drugs could be potentially useful for the treatment of neurofibromatosis type 2, in addition to RAS-induced cancers and neurofibromatosis type 1.

One problem with drugs developed for cancer is that, even if they finally get approved, they tend to be ultra-expensive.  Production volumes are low because even if they “work” they do not prolong life for so long and cancer has numerous sub-types.

Cheap drugs are ones used to treat common chronic conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and indeed treatment of male lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS), like benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH).

A small number of readers of this blog have confirmed the beneficial effect of PAK inhibitors in their specific sub-types of autism.  The problem is that there are no potent PAK1 inhibitors suitable for long term use that are readily available.

The anti-parasite drug Ivermectin is an extremely cheap PAK1 inhibitor, but cannot be used long term, due to its other effects.

Propolis containing CAPE (Caffeic Acid Phenethyl Ester) is a natural PAK1 inhibitor, but may not be sufficiently potent as is reported by people with neurofibromatosis.

You would think somebody would just synthesize CAPE (Caffeic Acid Phenethyl Ester) artificially and then higher doses could be achieved.

PAK Inhibitors and Treatment of Prostate Enlargement

I was rather surprised that research has recently been published suggesting that PAK inhibitors could be used to treat the prostate enlargement, common in most older men. 


Prostate smooth muscle tone and hyperplastic growth are involved in the pathophysiology and treatment of male lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS). Available drugs are characterized by limited efficacy. Patients’ adherence is particularly low to combination therapies of 5α-reductase inhibitors and α1-adrenoceptor antagonists, which are supposed to target contraction and growth simultaneously. Consequently, molecular etiology of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) and new compounds interfering with smooth muscle contraction or growth in the prostate are of high interest. Here, we studied effects of p21-activated kinase (PAK) inhibitors (FRAX486, IPA3) in hyperplastic human prostate tissues, and in stromal cells (WPMY-1). In hyperplastic prostate tissues, PAK1, -2, -4, and -6 may be constitutively expressed in catecholaminergic neurons, while PAK1 was detected in smooth muscle and WPMY-1 cells. Neurogenic contractions of prostate strips by electric field stimulation were significantly inhibited by high concentrations of FRAX486 (30 μM) or IPA3 (300 μM), while noradrenaline- and phenylephrine-induced contractions were not affected. FRAX486 (30 μM) inhibited endothelin-1- and -2-induced contractions. In WPMY-1 cells, FRAX486 or IPA3 (24 h) induced concentration-dependent (1–10 μM) degeneration of actin filaments. This was paralleled by attenuation of proliferation rate, being observed from 1 to 10 μM FRAX486 or IPA3. Cytotoxicity of FRAX486 and IPA3 in WPMY-1 cells was time- and concentration-dependent. Stimulation of WPMY-1 cells with endothelin-1 or dihydrotestosterone, but not noradrenaline induced PAK phosphorylation, indicating PAK activation by endothelin-1. Thus, PAK inhibitors may inhibit neurogenic and endothelin-induced smooth muscle contractions in the hyperplastic human prostate, and growth of stromal cells. Targeting prostate smooth muscle contraction and stromal growth at once by a single compound is principally possible, at least under experimental conditions.

It looks like a PAK inhibitor could potentially solve both the key problems in BPH and so replace the current therapies.

Existing Drugs for LUTS/BPH

Undoubtedly someone is going to wonder whether existing drugs for LUTS/BPH might improve autism.  This is actually possible, but totally unrelated to PAK1 inhibition and RASopathies.

Existing drugs are in two classes, 5α-reductase inhibitors and α1-adrenoceptor antagonists.

α-adrenoceptor antagonists

Alpha blockers relax certain muscles and help small blood vessels remain open. They work by keeping the hormone norepinephrine (noradrenaline) from tightening the muscles in the walls of smaller arteries and veins, which causes the vessels to remain open and relaxed. This improves blood flow and lowers blood pressure.
Because alpha blockers also relax other muscles throughout the body, these medications can help improve urine flow in older men with prostate problems.

Selective α1-adrenergic receptor antagonists are often used in BPH because it is the α1-adrenergic receptor that is present in the prostate.

 α 2-adrenergic receptors are present elsewhere in the body

Alpha-2 blockers are used to treat anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They decrease sympathetic outflow from the central nervous system. Post-traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety disorder that is theorized to be related to a hyperactive sympathetic nervous system.

Alpha-2 receptor agonists for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder

So a nonselective alpha blocker, like one given to an older man with high blood pressure and BPH, might well have an effect on some kinds of anxiety.

You would think that a selective alpha 2 blocker might be interesting, how about Idazoxan?

Idazoxan is a drug which is used in research. It acts as both a selective α2 adrenergic receptor antagonist, and an antagonist for the imidazoline receptor. Idazoxan has been under investigation as an antidepressant, but it did not reach the market as such. More recently, it is under investigation as an adjunctive treatment in schizophrenia. Due to its alpha-2 receptor antagonism it is capable of enhancing therapeutic effects of antipsychotics, possibly by enhancing dopamine neurotransmission in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, a brain area thought to be involved in the pathogenesis of schizophrenia.

Mirtazapine is a cheap generic drug used at high doses for depression.  It happens to be a selective alpha 2 blocker, but it has numerous other effects as well.  One reader of this blog does respond very well to Mirtazapine.

So realistically in Grandpa’s medicine cabinet there might a selective alpha 1 agonist or a non-selective alpha agonist, it is the latter type that might have an effect on some kinds of autism.

5α-reductase inhibitors

The pharmacology of 5α-reductase inhibition involves the binding of NADPH to the enzyme followed by the substrate. Specific substrates include testosterone, progesterone, androstenedione, epitestosterone, cortisol, aldosterone, and deoxycorticosterone.

Beyond being a catalyst in testosterone reduction, 5α-reductase isoforms I and II reduce progesterone to 5α-dihydroprogesterone (5α-DHP) and deoxycorticosterone to dihydrodeoxycorticosterone (DHDOC).

In vitro and animal models suggest subsequent 3α-reduction of DHT, 5α-DHP and DHDOC lead to neurosteroid metabolites with effect on cerebral function.

These neurosteroids, which include allopregnanolone, tetrahydrodeoxycorticosterone (THDOC), and 5α-androstanediol, act as potent positive allosteric modulators of GABAA receptors, and have anticonvulsant, antidepressant, anxiolytic, prosexual, and anticonvulsant effects.

Inhibition of 5α-reductase results in decreased conversion of testosterone to DHT.

This, in turn, results in slight elevations in testosterone and estradiol levels. 

In BPH, DHT acts as a potent cellular androgen and promotes prostate growth; therefore, it inhibits and alleviates symptoms of BPH. In alopecia, male and female-pattern baldness is an effect of androgenic receptor activation, so reducing levels of DHT also reduces hair loss.

A new look at the 5alpha-reductase inhibitor finasteride

Finasteride is the first 5alpha-reductase inhibitor that received clinical approval for the treatment of human benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) and androgenetic alopecia (male pattern hair loss). These clinical applications are based on the ability of finasteride to inhibit the Type II isoform of the 5alpha-reductase enzyme, which is the predominant form in human prostate and hair follicles, and the concomitant reduction of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT). In addition to catalyzing the rate-limiting step in the reduction of testosterone, both isoforms of the 5alpha-reductase enzyme are responsible for the reduction of progesterone and deoxycorticosterone to dihydroprogesterone (DHP) and dihydrodeoxycorticosterone (DHDOC), respectively. Recent preclinical data indicate that the subsequent 3alpha-reduction of DHT, DHP and DHDOC produces steroid metabolites with rapid non-genomic effects on brain function and behavior, primarily via an enhancement of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)ergic inhibitory neurotransmission. Consistent with their ability to enhance the action of GABA at GABA(A) receptors, these steroid derivatives (termed neuroactive steroids) possess anticonvulsant, antidepressant and anxiolytic effects in addition to altering aspects of sexual- and alcohol-related behaviors. Thus, finasteride, which inhibits both isoforms of 5alpha-reductase in rodents, has been used as a tool to manipulate neuroactive steroid levels and determine the impact on behavior. Results of some preclinical studies and clinical observations with finasteride are described in this review article. The data suggest that endogenous neuroactive steroid levels may be inversely related to symptoms of premenstrual and postpartum dysphoric disorder, catamenial epilepsy, depression, and alcohol withdrawal.

This would suggest that a 5α-reductase inhibitor, like finasteride, that might be among Grandpa’s tablets might very well have an effect on someone with GABAa dysfunction, this includes very many people with autism, schizophrenia and Down Syndrome.

Whether the effect will be good or bad is hard to say, and may well depend on whether other drugs that target GABA or NMDA receptors are being used. Due to their other effects, 5α-reductase inhibitors are usually only used in adults.

Merck developed a lower dose form of finasteride, called Prospecia to treat baldness, usually in men.  It is 20% the normal potency used for BPH.

Side effects

The current BPH drugs cause side effects in some people.  PAK1 inhibitors may also have some side effects.


Going back in the days of living with your extended family might make treating many people’s autism much simpler.  It looks like many older people’s drugs can be repurposed for some types of autism (ion channel modifying diuretics, calcium channel blockers, statins, even potentially intranasal insulin in some).  Because older people’s drugs are so widely used they are well understood and inexpensive.  

Clearly the research on PAK inhibitors for LUTS/BPH is at an early stage, but there is a huge potential market.   A widely available PAK1 inhibitor might be a big help to some people with autism, neurofibromatosis, other RASopathies, not just Grandpa’s prostate.

In addition to FRAX486 and IPA3, why doesn’t someone try synthetic CAPE, i.e. without the bees, as a PAK inhibitor?

Bioactivity and chemical synthesis of caffeic acid phenethyl ester and its derivatives.

There is far more chance of a PAK1 inhibitor coming to market for LUTS/BPH, or certain cancers than for autism.  That is a fact of life.

As for 5α-reductase inhibitors, like finasteride, we know from Hardan’s study on Pregnenolone at Stanford that this hormone can have a positive effect and we know that various natural steroid metabolites will modulate GABA subunits.  So it is quite likely that finasteride is going have a behavioral effect.  Perhaps Hardan would like to trial finasteride 5mg and 1mg (Prospecia) in some adults with autism. I suspect it will make some people “worse” and others somewhat “better”; so please do not report the “average” response, highlight the nature of the positive responders.