Showing posts with label cognitive enhancement. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cognitive enhancement. Show all posts

Thursday 10 May 2018

Accept Autism or Treat It?

Back in the old days autism was a hidden condition and those affected were usually tucked away in institutions. A trend then slowly developed towards inclusion, with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) being passed in 1975 in the US.  Other countries have slowly moved in this direction, with France only this year finally following suit.

Having moved on from hiding autism, we then had the new diagnosis of Asperger’s appearing in the 1990s and so autism became a much broader diagnosis. Then followed the idea of awareness and diagnosing adults.
Now we have an ever-growing number of people diagnosed with this “autism” thing, that other people are supposed to be aware of. Is it a disease, a dysfunction, a disability or just a difference?
Most importantly are you supposed to treat it, or just accept it?
I recently watched a BBC documentary where a doctor was the presenter and she was talking about schizophrenia. She said that at medical school she was taught that there are medical problems and there are mental health problems, for some reason she was taught that mental health problems are not just medical problems of the brain. Somehow mental health problems are supposed to be different and not based in biology, where did that idea come from?
The program went on to show that about 8% of schizophrenia appears to be caused by NMDAR antibodies. This is a condition where antibodies attack NMDA receptors in the brain, this causes hallucinations and other symptoms that a psychiatrist would diagnose as schizophrenia.  Rather than treating lifelong with anti-psychotics, the patient needs immunotherapy and can then resume a normal life.
It looks like 30% of modern autism is associated with cognitive impairment leading to a measured IQ of less than 70. This is intellectual disability (ID) to autism parents and mental retardation (MR) to the rest of the world.
The interesting finding in this blog is that some MR/ID is actually treatable. I did suggest to the Bumetanide researchers that they should include measuring IQ in their clinical trials.
I do not see how anyone could object to treating MR/ID, even those parents with Asperger’s who find the idea of treating their child’s severe autism to be repulsive.

Maths, Autism and Hans Asperger
Some people with Asperger’s are brilliant at maths, and I think these are the ones that Hans Asperger was mostly studying in Vienna in the 1940s. Lorna Wing came along in 1981 and then Uta Frith in 1991 and translated into English one of Asperger’s 300 papers, the 1943/4 “Die Autistischen Psychopathen im Kindesalter” and then named autism with no speech delay as Asperger’s Syndrome.
In 1994 the Americans adopted Asperger’s as a diagnosis and then rejected it two decades later in 2013 (DSM5).
In Asperger’s 1943 paper he described Fritz, Harro, Ernst and Hellmuth, who he termed "autistic psychopaths”; all four had high IQs and Asperger called them "little professors" because they could talk about the area of ​​their special interest in detail and often accumulated amazing knowledge.
I think Asperger’s should have been left as the "Little Professor’s Syndrome" (high IQ only).
In 2018 some people have realized that from the mid 1930’s almost all people in high positions in Austria and Germany were implicated in some pretty evil Nazi programs, including killing mentally disabled children. Asperger, being a senior psychiatrist at the University of Vienna, obviously played a role, not wanting to pay a visit to the local Gestapo basement.  He was living in a police state, where people tend to do what they are told.  Unlike most of the University medical faculty he was not a member of the Nazi party.
The particularly evil Austrian psychiatrist was Dr Emil Gelny, who modified an ECT (Electro Convulsive Therapy) device to give his subjects lethal shocks. Having personally killed hundreds of mental patients, after the end of the war he escaped to Baghdad, continued practising as a doctor and lived till he was 71. He was never brought to account and Mossad clearly never paid a visit, so I guess there were no Jewish victims.  His highly publicized use of ECT is one reason why it is little used today, even though it does seem to help certain otherwise untreatable conditions.
What surprised me was that in 1930 (before the rise of Hitler) half of the doctors in Vienna were Jewish and indeed half of the Vienna medical faculty were Jewish. So not so anti-Semitic in 1930.  All these doctors had to leave and so the young Hans Asperger made rapid career progress.
Things were not all rosy elsewhere.
I recently read that in London in the 1950s Jewish doctors struggled to progress within the faculty of medical schools and so some emigrated to the US.
We should also note that the Nazis took their inspiration for eugenics from America, where it backed by well-known names such as the Carnegie Institution and the Rockefeller Foundation. California, which we now might consider very liberal, was the centre for forced sterilization.  Between 1907 and 1963 over 64,000 individuals were forcibly sterilized under eugenic legislation in the United States.
So, I think Asperger deserves a break, he was likely no better or worse than other Austrians, unlike most he did not join the Nazi Party. Wing and Frith (a German) were naïve to name a psychiatric syndrome based on the work of an Austrian written during the Nazi period. I think you would not name a reservation for native Americans after General George Custer. 

Back to Maths
One group of kids with severe autism do have near/distant relatives who have remarkable maths skills but were never diagnosed with anything other than being a bit odd.
Monty, now aged 14 with ASD, had great difficulty with even the most basic maths until the age of 9, so much so that we did not bother to teach it, we focused on literacy.
Five and a half years of drug treatment has produced a boy who is now great at maths, at least in his class of 12 years olds.
Coordinates, no problem; negative numbers, no problem. It still now shocks those who knew him from before.
Today I received a message from Monty’s assistant at school and a photo of his classwork, where he is solving simple equations like
7x - 6 = 15
That is not a complex problem for a typical boy, but at the age of 9, after 5 years of intensive ABA therapy, we were still challenged by the most basic single digit addition.  

Nice neat handwriting

Should you treat autism? 

Pretty obviously I think autism should be treated. I would favour treating all types of genuine disease.
If you can treat it, I’d definitely call it a disease.
I would treat people with Down Syndrome to raise their IQs to improve their quality of life and I would also treat them preventatively to avoid early onset Alzheimer’s, which they are highly likely to develop. By the age of just 40 years old, studies have shown significant levels of amyloid plaques and tau tangles, which will lead to Alzheimer’s type dementia.
If you cannot treat it, then you’re just going to have to accept it.
But how would you know you cannot treat it, if you do not at least try?
Since there are hundreds of types of autism, there is no one-stop treatment shop for autism. For medical advice you should go to see a doctor, but mainstream medicine believes autism is untreatable. Today it is really up to the parents themselves to figure out what, if anything, to do.  Dr Frye might suggest you try Leucovorin, B12 and NAC; some DAN doctor will tell you it is all about candida; another will treat everyone with cod liver oil; another will blame parasites; most will blame vaccines.  One lady will charge you large amounts of money for her genetic tests, baffle you with complicated looking charts and then sell you her supplements by the bucket-load. This blog suggests numerous therapies may be partially effective in specific people, a case for personalized medicine.  My Polypill is what works for my son's autism; it is nice to know it works for some others, but it does not work for all autism, that would never be possible.  
With schizophrenia, you could start by treating that 8% with NMDAR antibodies via a science-based medical therapy; this has got to be a big step forward over psychiatric drugs.
We have gone from aged 9, struggling with: -
5 + 2 =  ?
To aged 14, solving worded maths questions, where you have to create the formula and to neatly solving simple equations like:

7x – 6  =  15                  
In algebra there is no doubt effective treatment wins over acceptance.

There is more to life than algebra, but it looks pretty clear that going through life with an IQ 30+ points less than your potential is a missed opportunity. 

Trivial autism
Many people with mild autism and an IQ much greater than 70 are happy the way they are and do not want treatment. For them autism is not a disability, it is just a difference, so we might call it trivial autism.  Unless years later they commit suicide or hurt other people, then it was not so trivial after all.
Unfortunately, some people with trivial autism will go on to produce children with not so trivial autism.
Then you end up with situation that the adult can block what is in the child’s interest, just like deaf parents who refuse their deaf child to have cochlear implants to gain some sense of hearing. Cochlear implants are only effective when implanted in very young children, so by the time you are old enough to have you own say in the decision, it is too late.  Some deaf parents do not want hearing children – odd but true.
So, I come back to my earlier point better to treat ID/MR, don’t even call it treating autism.
How can the Asperger’s mother then refuse treatment to her son with autism plus MR/ID? She can still be able to celebrate her difference, while he gets a chance to learn to tie his own shoe laces, put his shirt on the right way around and do all kinds of other useful things.

So, focus on the 31% of autism? 

Unfortunately, in the research trials they often exclude severe autism, so they exclude people with epilepsy, people with MR/ID and people will self-injurious behaviour (SIB). The very people who clearly need treatment are excluded from the trials to determine what are effective autism treatments. Rather odd.

Thursday 15 March 2018

PolyPill Updated with Agmatine

After several months of testing Agmatine, including stopping and then re-starting, it is time to add it to my PolyPill.
The idea to trial Agmatine came from our reader Tyler. It ticks all the boxes, it really does have a benefit; that benefit continues for at least several months. When you stop taking it, the benefit stops and when you restart you see the same benefit return. It is safe, inexpensive and widely available if you live anywhere outside the EU. Since it is relatively recent to the market as a supplement, it can no longer be sold in the EU until someone applies for it to be approved; long established supplements bypass this recent legislation.
There were earlier posts evaluating why it might help some types of autism and now there even is one study on an animal model of autism. 

I think the positive effect very likely comes from the vasodilatory effect produced by the increased eNOS, there is also increased BDNF.  This I believe is why it also effective in two models of dementia. Agmatine is also an NMDAR antagonist, like Memantine and this is the mode of action proposed by autism researchers in the animal model above.  My opinion is that at this "bodybuilder's" dose the mode of action is not NMDAR antagonism.

The effect of Agmatine?

The energetic bunny on the left is the one taking 0.7g a day of Agmatine.
In the case of Monty, aged 14 with ASD, Agmatine gives him boundless energy, which in his case is beneficial.
I think the effect will manifest itself slightly differently in different people. In animal models it improves cognitive function.  
If you have autism + ADHD, then it might not be helpful. When I tried it on myself it made me feel slightly nauseous. In Monty's big brother it made him feel "different", but not better or worse and certainly not more energetic.

Other People’s PolyPills
Other readers of this blog have developed their own science-based “Polypill” therapies, for their specific type of autism. What works for my son may not help your child, but other  things discussed in this blog just might help.
High doses of the immuno-modulating Biogaia Gastrus probiotic bacteria clearly help some people greatly; but others get a negative reaction.
Immunomodulation by antibiotic is used successfully by some, but has some drawbacks. 
PAK1 inhibition ticks the science boxes and if you can obtain a potent PAK1 inhibitor it helps some people.

Butyric acid (from sodium butyrate, Miyairi 588 bacteria, more fiber or even rancid butter) is an HDAC inhibitor and is also required for gut wall integrity and likely BBB integrity. It is widely used in animal feed and some humans respond well to it, but the effect is dose dependent. HDAC inhibition can work epigenetically to change the expression of hundreds of "autism" genes, as highlighted in recent research using a potent cancer drug HDAC inhibitor.
Numerous individual amino acids (glutamine, taurine, methionine, aspartic acid etc) seem to help in some people. These tend to be OTC bulk powders like Agmatine.

In a sub-group of people with autism it is clear that digestive issues, unusual gut bacteria or food sensitivity is a major problem that is treatable relatively easily.

People with regressive autism may have (had) mitochondrial disease and this has a very specific therapy to protect from further regression and to allow for remyelination and mitochondrial biogenesis in the short term and hope for neurogenesis in the long term.

Thursday 9 November 2017

Variable Expression of GABRA5 and Activation of α5 -  a Modifier of Cognitive Function in Autism?

Today’s post sounds complicated. We actually already know that the gene GABRA5, and hence the alpha 5 sub-unit of GABAA receptors, can affect cognition, but we do not know for sure in whom it is relevant.
Most readers of this blog are lay people, as such we tend to be predisposed to the idea that autism is somehow “hardwired”, something that just happened and cannot be reversed. Some of autism is indeed “hardwired”, you cannot take an adult with autism and “re-prune” his synapses, to produce a more elegant robust network in his brain. But much can be done, because many things in the brain are changing all the time, they are not fixed at all. Today’s post is good example.
GABA is the most important inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. There are two types of GABA receptor, A and B. These receptors are made up of sub-units. There are many different possible combinations of sub-units to make GABAA receptors. These combinations are not fixed, or “hard-wired”; they vary all the time.
The composition of the GABAA receptor changes its effect. It can change how you feel (anxiety) and it can change you think/learn.
You can actually measure GABRA5 expression in different regions of the brain in a test subject using a PET-CT (Positron Emission Tomography–Computed Tomography) scan and it has been done in some adults with high functioning autism. This machine looks like a big front-leading washing machine, just a bit cleverer. 

our primary hypothesis was that, compared to controls, individuals with ASD have a significant reduction in α5 GABA receptor availability in these areas.
Due to the small sample size, we could not examine possible correlations between GABAA binding and particular symptoms of ASD, age, IQ, or symptoms of comorbidities frequently associated with ASD, such as anxiety disorders, OCD and depression. We were also unable to address the effects of possible neuroanatomical differences between people with ASD and controls, which might lead to partial volume effects in PET studies. However, the modest magnitude of the volumetric differences seen in most studies of high-functioning ASD suggests that it is unlikely that these could fully explain the present findings.

These preliminary results suggest that potentiation of GABAA signaling, especially at GABAA α5-subunit containing receptors, might potentially be a novel therapeutic target for ASD. Unselective GABAA agonists and positive allosteric modulators, such as benzodiazepines, have undesirable features such as abuse potential and tolerance, but more selective modulators might avoid such limitations. Further research should extend this work in a larger sample of ASD individuals. It would also be interesting to use PET with the ligand [11C]Ro15-4513 to measure GABAA in disorders of known etiology characterised by ASD symptoms, such as Fragile X and 15q11-13 duplication
In summary, we present preliminary evidence of reduced GABAA α5 expression in adult males with ASD, consistent with the hypothesis that ASD is characterised by a defect in GABA signaling. 

The prevalence of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), which affect over 1% of the population, has increased twofold in recent years. Reduced expression of GABAA receptors has been observed in postmortem brain tissue and neuroimaging of individuals with ASDs. We found that deletion of the gene for the α5 subunit of the GABAA receptor caused robust autism-like behaviors in mice, including reduced social contacts and vocalizations. Screening of human exome sequencing data from 396 ASD subjects revealed potential missense mutations in GABRA5 and in RDX, the gene for the α5GABAA receptor-anchoring protein radixin, further supporting a α5GABAA receptor deficiency in ASDs.

The results from the current study suggest that drugs that act as positive allosteric modulators of α5GABAA receptors may ameliorate autism-like behaviors 

Too many or too few the α5GABAA receptors or too much/little activity?

Regular readers will know that autism is all about extremes hypo/hyper, macro/micro etc. The same is true with α5GABAA, too few can cause autistic behaviors, but too many can impede learning. You need just the right amount.
The next variable is how well your α5GABAA are behaving, because even if you have an appropriate number of these receptors, you may not have optimal activity from them. Over activity from α5GABAA is likely to have the same effect as having too many of them.
Here it becomes very relevant to many with autism and inflammatory comorbidities, because systemic inflammation has been shown to activate α5GABAA. It has been shown that increased α5GABAA receptor activity contributes to inflammation-induced memory deficits and, by my extension, to inflammation-induced cognitive decline.

α5GABAA Receptors Regulate Inflammation-Induced Impairment of Long-Term Potentiation

Systemic inflammation causes learning and memory deficits through mechanisms that remain poorly understood. Here, we studied the pathogenesis of memory loss associated with inflammation and found that we could reverse memory deficits by pharmacologically inhibiting α5-subunit-containing γ-aminobutyric acid type A (α5GABAA) receptors and deleting the gene associated with the α5 subunit. Acute inflammation reduces long-term potentiation, a synaptic correlate of memory, in hippocampal slices from wild-type mice, and this reduction was reversed by inhibition of α5GABAA receptor function. A tonic inhibitory current generated by α5GABAA receptors in hippocampal neurons was increased by the key proinflammatory cytokine interleukin-1β through a p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase signaling pathway. Interleukin-1β also increased the surface expression of α5GABAA receptors in the hippocampus. Collectively, these results show that α5GABAA receptor activity increases during inflammation and that this increase is critical for inflammation-induced memory deficits.

We saw in an earlier post that overexpression of GABRA5 is found in slow learners and we know that this is a key target of Down Syndrome research, aimed at raising cognitive function.

What can be modified?
It appears that you can modify the expression of GABRA5, which means you can increase/decrease the number of GABAA receptors that contain an α5 subunit.
You can also tune the response of those α5 subunits. You can increase it or decrease it.
Activation of the α5 subunit is thought to be the reason why benzodiazepine drugs  have cognitive (reducing) side effects. By extension, inverse agonists of α5 are seen as likely to be nootropic.
One such drug is LS-193,268  is a nootropic drug invented in 2004 by a team working for Merck, Sharp and Dohme.
A complication is that you do not want to affect the α2 subunit, or you will cause anxiety. So you need a highly selective inverse agonist.
The new Down Syndrome drug, Basmisanil, is just such a selective inverse agonist of α5.
Basmisanil (developmental code names RG-1662, RO5186582) is a highly selective inverse agonist/negative allosteric modulator of α5 subunit-containing GABAA receptors which is under development by Roche for the treatment of cognitive impairment associated with Down syndrome.  As of August 2015, it is in phase II clinical trials for this indication.

A contradiction
As is often the case, there is an apparent contradiction, because on the one hand a negative allosteric modulator should be nootropic in NT people and appears to raise cognition in models of Down Syndrome; but on the other hand results from a recent study suggests that drugs that act as positive allosteric modulators of α5GABAA receptors may ameliorate autism-like behaviors.
So which is it?
Quite likely both are right.
It is exactly as we saw a long while back with NMDAR activity, some people have too much and some have too little. Some respond to an agonist, some to an antagonist and some to neither.
What we can say is that fine-tuning α5GABAA in man and mouse seems a viable option to enhance cognition in those with learning difficulties.
The clever option is probably the positive/negative allosteric modulator route, the one being pursued by big Pharma for Down Syndrome.
I like Dr Pahan’s strategy from this previous post, for poor learners and those with early dementia

to use cinnamon/NaB to reduce GABRA5 expression, which has got to consequently reduce α5GABAA activity.
All of these strategies are crude, because what matters is α5GABAA activity in each part of the brain. This is why changing GABRA5 expression will inevitably have good effects in one area and negative effects in another area. What matter is the net effect, is it good, bad or negligible?
The fact that systemic inflammation increases α5GABAA activity may contribute to the cognitive decline some people with autism experience.
We previously saw how inflammation changes KCC2 expression and hence potentially increases intra cellular chloride, shifting GABA towards excitatory.
Ideally you would avoid systemic inflammation, but in fact all you can do is treat it.
Increasing α5GABAA activity I would see as possible strategy for people with high IQ, but some autistic features.
I think those with learning problems are likely to be the ones wanting less α5GABAA activity.
The people for whom “bumetanide has stopped working” or “NAC has stopped working” are perhaps the ones who have developed systemic inflammation for some reason.  You might only have to measure C-reactive protein (CRP) to prove this.

More reading for those interested:-

Thursday 17 March 2016

Cardiazol, a failed Schizophrenia treatment from the 1930s, repurposed at low doses as a Cognitive Enhancer in Down Syndrome and likely some Autism

Italy has many attractions, one being Lake Como (Villa Clooney). 
It is also the only western country still using Cardiazol, where it is used in a cough medicine

Varanasi and the Ganges, not a place you could forget, particularly the smell.
India is the only other country using Cardiazol

Today’s post draws on clever things going on in Down Syndrome research to improve cognitive function, but puts them in the perspective of the faulty GABA switch. 

In the United States it is estimated that 250,000 families are affected by Down Syndrome.  It is caused by a third copy of chromosome 21, resulting in up-regulation of around 300 genes.  A key feature is low IQ, this is partly caused by a physically smaller cerebellum and it appears partly by the GABA switch.  Research has shown that the cerebellum growth could be normalized, but this post is all about the GABA switch. 

In an earlier very science heavy post we saw how a faulty GABA switch would degrade cognitive function in many people with autism, schizophrenia or Down Syndrome. Basmisanil is a drug in Roche’s development pipeline.

The GABA Switch, Altered GABAa Receptor subunit expression in Autism and Basmisanil

More evidence to show the GABA switch affects schizophrenia was provided by our reader Natasa.

Perturbations of γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) neurotransmission in the human prefrontal cortex have been implicated in the pathogenesis of schizophrenia (SCZ), but the mechanisms are unclear. NKCC1 (SLC12A2) is a Cl--importing cation-Cl- cotransporter that contributes to the maintenance of depolarizing GABA activity in immature neurons, and variation in SLC12A2 has been shown to increase the risk for schizophrenia via alterations of NKCC1 mRNA expression. However, no disease-causing mutations or functional variants in NKCC1 have been identified in human patients with SCZ. Here, by sequencing three large French-Canadian (FC) patient cohorts of SCZ, autism spectrum disorders (ASD), and intellectual disability (ID), we identified a novel heterozygous NKCC1 missense variant (p.Y199C) in SCZ. This variant is located in an evolutionarily conserved residue in the critical N-terminal regulatory domain and exhibits high predicted pathogenicity. No NKCC1 variants were detected in ASD or ID, and no KCC3 variants were identified in any of the three neurodevelopmental disorder cohorts. Functional experiments show Y199C is a gain-of-function variant, increasing Cl--dependent and bumetanide-sensitive NKCC1 activity even in conditions in which the transporter is normally functionally silent (hypotonicity). These data are the first to describe a functional missense variant in SLC12A2 in human SCZ, and suggest that genetically encoded dysregulation of NKCC1 may be a risk factor for, or contribute to the pathogenesis of, human SCZ.

This study showed that some with schizophrenia will likely benefit from Bumetanide, but that the underlying reason for excessive NKCC1 activity in schizophrenia is not the same as in ASD.  Different cause but the same end result and the same likely therapy, repurposing an old existing drug.

α3 and α5 sub-units of GABAA

The science is rather patchy, but it seems that the α3 sub-unit of GABAA receptors is under-expressed in some autism and there is a fair chance that the α5 sub-unit is correspondingly over-expressed.

We know that over-expression of α5 is associated with cognitive impairment.

Down regulating α5 is currently a hot topic in Down Syndrome and at least two drugs are in development.

Reading the Down Syndrome research suggests that those involved have not really understood what is going on.  They do seek to modify GABA signaling, but have not realized that likely problem is the miss-expression of GABAA subunits in the first place, exactly as in autism.  As in autism, this faulty “GABA switch” has more than one dimension.  An incremental benefit can be expected from correcting each one.

Further support for the use of low dose Clonazepam in some Autism

In previous posts we saw how Professor Catterall's idea to use low dose clonazepam to treat some autism does translate from mice to humans.  This was based on up-regulating the α3 sub-unit of GABAA receptors.

There is some new research on this subject and Japanese research is very often of the highest quality.

In the paper below, highlighted by our reader Tyler, they use low dose clonazepam to reduce autistic behavior in a rare condition called Jacobsen syndrome.  While Professor Catterall and several readers of this blog are using low dose clonazepam to upregulate the α3 sub unit of GABAA receptors, the Japanese attribute the benefit to the γ2 subunit.

Whichever way you look at it, another reason to support trial of low dose clonazepam in autism.  When I say low, I mean a dose 100 to 1,000 times lower than the standard doses.

PX-RICS-deficient mice mimic autism spectrum disorder in Jacobsen syndrome through impaired GABAA receptor trafficking 

Jacobsen syndrome (JBS) is a rare congenital disorder caused by a terminal deletion of the long arm of chromosome 11. A subset of patients exhibit social behavioural problems that meet the diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder (ASD); however, the underlying molecular pathogenesis remains poorly understood.

ASD-like behavioural abnormalities in PX-RICS-deficient mice are ameliorated by enhancing inhibitory synaptic transmission with a GABAAR agonist (Clonazepam)
A curative effect of clonazepam on autistic-like behaviour

 These results demonstrate that ASD-like behaviour in PX-RICS−/− mice is caused by impaired postsynaptic GABA signalling and that GABAAR agonists have the potential to treat ASD-like behaviour in JBS patients and possibly non-syndromic ASD individuals.

“Correcting GABA” in Down Syndrome

I expect there may be four different methods, all relating to GABAA, to improve cognition in Down Syndrome just as there appear to be in autism:-

·        Reduce intracellular Cl- by blocking NKCC1 with bumetanide
 ·        Down regulate α5 sub-units of GABAA
 ·        Damp down GABAA receptors with an antagonist
 ·        Upregulate α3 sub-units of GABAA

Two of the above are being pursued in Down Syndrome research, but two do not seem to be.

Enhancing Cognitive Function in Down Syndrome

These are the sort of headlines that appeal to me:-

Cognitive-enhancing drugs may have a significant impact, doctors say. An IQ boost of just 10 to 15 points could greatly increase the chance that someone with the syndrome would be able to live independently as an adult, said Brian Skotko, co-director of the Down syndrome program at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, who has a sister with the condition.

In 2004, Stanford University neurobiologist Craig Garner and a student of his at the time, Fabian Fernandez, realized scientists might be able to counteract the Down Syndrome with drugs…
Researchers did a test in mice using an old GABA-blocking drug called PTZ. After 17 days, the treatment normalized the rodents’ performance on mazes and certain object recognition and memory tasks for as long as two months, according to results published in 2007 in Nature Neuroscience….

“It was bloody amazing,” Garner said by telephone. “It was shocking how well it worked.”


In their work, Hernandez, who is at Roche AG, and colleagues both at Roche and in academia chronically treated mice that have an animal version of Down syndrome with RO4938581, a drug that targets GABA receptors containing an alpha5 subunit. GABA is the major inhibitory transmitter in the brain, and in Down syndrome, there appears to be too much inhibitory signaling in the hippocampus – where, it so happens, GABA receptors with the alpha5 subunit are concentrated.

Treatment with RO4938581 improved the animals' memory abilities in a maze, decreased hyperactivity and reversed their long-term potentiation deficit. In the hippocampus, which is an important brain structure for memory and cognition, it also increased the birth rate of neurons back to the levels seen in normal animals, and led to a decrease in the number of inhibitory connections between cells.

In short there are two methods being developed, both potentially applicable to some autism:-

METHOD 1.   Dampen GABAA receptors with an antagonist

METHOD 2.   Dampen GABA with an inverse agonist of α5 sub-unit  

Initially it was thought method 1 could not be used because of the risk of seizure/epilepsy.

“these drugs (GABAA antagonists) are convulsant at high doses, precluding their use as cognition enhancers in humans, particularly considering that DS patients are more prone to convulsions”


Specific targeting of the GABA-A receptor α5 subtype by a selective inverse agonist restores cognitive deficits in Down syndrome mice

However this seems to have been overly conservative.

In the 2007 Stanford study they make a big point of their dosing being far lower than that used to induce seizures.

While you may need for a decade to get hold of Basmisanil (method 2), Cardiazol/PZT (method 1) is available in some pharmacies today.  The only complication is that it is in a cough medicine that also contains Dihydrocodeine.

In some countries Dihydrocodeine is used in OTC painkillers along with paracetamol or ibuprofen, while in other countries it is a banned substance.

In Italy and India Cardiazol, with Dihydrocodeine, is given to toddlers as a cough medicine.


METHOD 1.   Dampen GABAA receptors with an antagonist
As seems to be the case quite often, you can sometimes repurpose an old drug rather than spend decades developing a new one.  This is the case with Cardiazol/ Pentylenetetrazol that was used in the Stanford trial.

Confusing Medical Jargon, (again)

Cardiazol, the name an elderly psychiatrist would recognize, is also called:-

·        Pentylenetetrazol
·        Pentylenetetrazole
·        Metrazol
·        Pentetrazol
·        Pentamethylenetetrazol
·        PTZ
·        BTD-001 
·        DS-102

Other than to confuse us, why do they need so many names for the same drug?

Cardiazol/ Pentylenetetrazol is a drug that was widely used in the 1930s in Mental Hospitals to trigger seizures that were supposed to treat people with Schizophrenia.  At much lower doses, it found a new purpose decades ago as an ingredient in cough medicine.

Electroconvulsive therapy later took the place of Cardiazol, as psychiatrists sought to treat people by terrifying them.  It was later concluded that the only benefit in giving people Cardiazol was the fear associated with it. Electroconvulsive therapy is still used today in autism.

For a background into Cardiazol as a schizophrenia therapy, the following is not very pleasant reading:-

The 2007 Stanford trial of Cardiazol (there called PTZ) also trialed another GABAA antagonist called picrotoxin (PTX).  Picrotoxin is, not surprisingly, a toxin, it is therefore a research drug but it has been given to horses to make them run faster.

Recent neuroanatomical and electrophysiological findings from a
mouse model of Down syndrome (DS), Ts65Dn, suggest that there is
excessive inhibition in the dentate gyrus, a brain region important for
learning and memory. This circuit abnormality is predicted to compromise normal mechanisms of synaptic plasticity, and perhaps mnemonic processing. Here, we show that chronic systemic administration of noncompetitive GABAA antagonists, at non – epileptic doses, leads to a persistent, post drug, recovery of cognition in Ts65Dn mice, as well as recovery of deficits in long – term potentiation (LTP). These data suggest that excessive GABAergic inhibition of specific brain circuits is a potential cause of mental retardation in DS, and that GABAA antagonists may be useful therapeutic tools to facilitate functional changes that can ameliorate cognitive impairment in children and young adults with the disorder.

One important things is that this cognitive enhancing effect persisted for a couple of months.

As you will see in the human clinical trial at the end of this post, they are comparing single doses with daily doses to understand the pharmokinetics.

The lead author, Craig Garner went on to start his own company because nobody seemed interested in his findings.

“Balance is now testing a GABA-blocking drug, BTD-001, on 90 adolescents and adults with Down syndrome in Australia, with results expected by early next year, said Lien, chief executive officer of the company.”

GABAA agonists and antagonists

The jargon does get confusing, if you want to stimulate GABAA receptors, you would use an agonist like GABA itself, or something that mimics it.

If you want to damp down the effect of GABAA receptors you would need an antagonist.

So if GABAA receptors are “malfunctioning”, you could either fix the malfunction or turn them down to reduce their effect.

If you cannot entirely repair the malfunction you could always do both.  The overall effect might be better, or might not be, and it might well vary from person to person depending on the degree and nature of malfunction.

We saw in a previous post the idea of using drugs like bumetanide, diamox, and potassium bromide to restore E/I balance and then give GABA a little boost with a GABA agonist like Picamillon.  This is very easy to test.  In our case that little boost, did not help.

In those people who do not respond well, we can take the idea developed by Stanford for Down Syndrome and do the opposite, use a tiny amount of an antagonist, to see if that fine tuning has any beneficial effect.  We now see this is both simple and safe.

METHOD 2.   Inverse agonists of α5 sub-unit GABAA

I do like method 2, but would prefer not to wait another decade.

Method 2 sets out to improve cognitive function by dampening the activity of α5 sub-unit GABAA.

The Downs Syndrome researchers at Roche are developing Basmisanil/RG-1662 for this purpose.  It will be a long while till it appears on the shelf of your local pharmacy.

I did look to see if there any clever ways to down regulate the α5 sub-unit of GABAA , other than those drugs being developed for Down Syndrome. 

Inverse agonists of of α5 sub-unit GABAA

The only option today would be the Pyridazines, which include cefozopran (a 4th generation antibiotic), cadralazine (reduces blood pressure), minaprine (withdrawn antidepressant), pipofezine (a Russian a tricyclic antidepressant), hydralazine (reduces blood pressure, but has problems), and cilazapril (ACE inhibitor).

Pipofezine looks interesting.

Now we can compare Pipofezine with Mirtazapine.   They are both this tricyclic antidepressants, so both closely related to H1 antihistamine drugs.  We saw in earlier posts that Mirtazapine helps some people with autism in quite unexpected ways.


To be classed as a Pyridazines there has to be the benzene ring with two adjacent nitrogen atoms

So mirtazapine is not quite a Pyridazine, so may not directly affect the α5 sub-unit; but it does have potent effects elsewhere on the same receptor.  It is will increase the concentration of neuroactive steroids that act as positive allosteric modulators via the steroid binding site on GABAA receptors.
We saw this in earlier posts that changes in progesterone levels affect not only the function of GABAA but even the subunit composition and hence indirectly possibly α5 sub-unit expression.

I previously suggested both progesterone and pregnenalone as potential autism therapies.  Pregnenalone has since been trialed at Stanford.

The problem with these substances is that they are also female hormones and giving them in high doses to young boys is not a good idea.  Stanford used adults in their trial.

However, affecting the metabolites of progesterone rather than increasing the amount of progesterone itself may give the good, without the bad.  Also, perhaps there is a reason, oxidative stress perhaps, why progesterone metabolism might be disturbed in autism?

Anyway, it is yet another plausible reason why mirtazapine helps some people with autism.

Influence of mirtazapine on plasma concentrations of neuroactive steroids in major depression and on 3alpha-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase activity

Certain 3alpha-reduced metabolites of progesterone such as 3alpha,5alpha-tetrahydroprogesterone (3alpha,5alpha-THP, 5alpha-pregnan-3alpha-ol-20-one, allopregnanolone) and 3alpha,5beta-tetrahydroprogesterone (3alpha,5beta-THP, 5beta-pregnan-3alpha-ol-20-one, pregnanolone) are potent positive allosteric modulators of the italic gamma-aminobutyric acidA (GABAA) receptor complex.123

 Mirtazapine affects neuroactive steroid composition similarly as do SSRIs. The inhibition of the oxidative pathway catalyzed by the microsomal 3alpha-HSD is compatible with an enhanced formation of 3alpha-reduced neuroactive steroids. However, the changes in neuroactive steroid concentrations more likely reflect direct pharmacological effects of this antidepressant rather than clinical improvement in general.

So there may indeed be an effect on α5 sub-unit GABAA, but there is also an effect on another α5 subunit, this time the nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChR).  Those I looked at in earlier posts.  This is getting rather off-topic.

The gene that encode the α5 sub-unit of nAChR is called CHRNA5.  It is associated with nicotine dependence (and hence lung cancer), but is also linked to anxiety.  GABA sub-units expression also plays a key role in anxiety.  So a reason Mirtazapine should help reduce anxiety.


Progesterone modulation ofα5 nAChR subunits influences anxiety-related behavior during estrus cycle 

 It has already been shown that GABAA receptor subunit expression and composition is modulated by progesterone both in vitro and in vivo(Biggio et al. 2001Griffiths & Lovick 2005Lovick 2006Pierson et al. 2005Weiland & Orchinik 1995) but this is the first report showing an effect of physiological concentrations of progesterone on nAChR subunit expression levels.

Pharmokinetics of Cardiazol

Since mouse experiments indicated an effect that continues after stopping using the drug, the clinical trials are particularly looking at the so called pharmokinetics.  What is best a small daily dose or occasional larger doses?

You would hope they will be keeping a watchful eye on seizures.

I do not know what doses was used in those mental hospitals in the 1930s, but it must be well documented somewhere.

Experimental doses in adults vary widely from a “one off” 100mg to a daily dose of 2000mg. Look how they treat the 7 cohorts in the trial.

The cough medicine has 100mg of Cardiazol per 1ml

The usual dose is one drop per year of age, so a 12 year old would have a 0.6ml  dose containing 60mg of Cardiazol.  That is dosage is give 2 to 4 times a day, so up to 240mg a day

This dose is well up there with the dosage used in the above clinical trial, which starts at a one off dose of just 100mg or daily doses of 500mg in adults.

The above trial has been completed but the results have not been published.

If the trial is positive at the lower dose range, the cough medicine is a very cheap alternative.


I wish a safe inverse agonist of the α5 sub-unit of GABAA existed for use today.

I do not know anyone with Down Syndrome and this blog does not have many readers from Italy.  The standard pediatric dose of Cardiazol Paracodina  cough medicine might be well worth a try for both those with Down Syndrome and some autism with cognitive dysfunction. 

We actual have quite a few readers from India and that is the only other country using this drug.  In India the producer is Nicholas Piramal and the brand name is Cardiazol Dicodid, it cost 30 US cents for 10ml.  So for less than $1, or 70 rupees, you might have a few months of cognitive enhancement, that is less than some people pay for 1 minute of ABA therapy.

If a few drops of this children’s cough medicine improves cognition please lets us all know.