Showing posts with label multiple sclerosis. Show all posts
Showing posts with label multiple sclerosis. Show all posts

Wednesday, 24 March 2021

Pentoxifylline – Clearly an Effective add-on Autism Therapy for some


They also had Pentoxifylline for autism back in the 1970s – time for a revival?


Pentoxifylline and other more modern PDE inhibitors have been mentioned many times in this blog.

Pentoxifylline has been used in autism clinical trials dating back almost 50 years. A casual observer would naturally assume it cannot possibly be effective, or else surely its use would have caught on by now.

Some readers have long been using a PDE inhibitor as part of their child’s autism polytherapy. People have been asking me to let them know my thoughts on Pentoxifylline, the most accessible PDE inhibitor.

I think the key is that we are talking about an add-on, or adjunct, therapy.  We are no longer talking about pentoxifylline therapy vs no therapy, as they were in the 1970s.  Even in those decades-old studies there was a sub group of “super responders”.  Either the percentage of such responders, or the “super-response” itself was just too small to create waves leading to wider adoption.

In my autism world, I had been trying to develop more expressive language using sulforaphane and calcium folinate (leucovorin). A comment from Valentina prompted me to finally start my trial of Pentoxifylline.  It became apparent that the amount of expressive language was increasing, but the major factor was the Pentoxifylline not the calcium folinate (leucovorin).  To avoid GI side effects, I give Pentoxifylline after meals, which means it does sometimes get omitted/forgotten. It emerged that expressive language was clearly correlated to whether Pentoxifylline was taken or forgotten.

Reviewing the old studies, increased use of language does get a mention as an effect of Pentoxifylline.


What is the biological effect of Pentoxifylline?

Pentoxifylline is a non-selective PDE inhibitor, which you might think is a bad thing, since it looks like is it just PDE4 that we want to inhibit.

Pentoxifylline is also a non-selective antagonist of adenosine receptors A1 and A2A that are located in both the heart and brain.  These two adenosine receptors have important roles in the brain, regulating the release of other neurotransmitters such as dopamine and glutamate.

Pentoxifylline is normally prescribed because of its effects on your blood.  It improves red blood cell deformability, reduces blood viscosity and decreases the potential for platelet aggregation and blood clot formation.  So not a bad potential drug for the effects of severe Covid (which causes "sticky" blood), or indeed the extremely rare negative reaction to Astra Zeneca’s vaccine reported in Norway.  I had my Astra Zeneca Covid shot last week and Monty will be having his. Even young children with severe autism have been vaccinated where we live, at the parents' insistence. It looks like crossing international borders is going to to be much easier with proof of vaccination, so even if you had the virus the vaccine is useful.  Most people we know have had the virus, since where we live public policy was more towards protecting livelihoods than lives.  A lack of obesity and very old people kept the death rate quite low.  Now we seem to have more vaccines than demand for them.

Studies show that Pentoxifylline increases blood flow to the brain.  We know that blood flow to the brain in autism is impaired; the research describes it as unstable rather than just weak.

It sounds like Pentoxifylline is a polytherapy in itself, it has so many effects possibly relevant to autism.


Are Ibudilast and Roflumilast/Daxas an alternative to Pentoxifylline?

This question has come up already in the comments section.

We know that Ibudilast and Roflumilast are much more selective for PDE4 than Pentoxifylline.  We know that both Ibudilast and Roflumilast have interesting effects on the brain.

Pentoxifylline has some potentially beneficial effects that are not shared by Ibudilast or Roflumilast.  Pentoxifylline is cheap and proven safe in a series of trials in young children. 

I think that the typical autism dose of Pentoxifylline, 200mg twice a day, likely does not provide the effect on PDE4 provided by the small dose of Roflumilast/Daxas used in trials to improve cognition and sensory gating.

I think you would need to trial the drugs separately and, if they indeed provide a benefit, find the effective combination.  

So far I have trialed the 100 mcg dose of Roflumilast/Daxas on myself to check for GI side effects and see if it affects how thoughts and sensory inputs are processed, as the research suggests it does. I think it does indeed have the cognitive effects, but in me personally the GI effects also appear.  Some readers have told me this 100 mcg dose works for Aspies, and without side effects.

Some readers have tried Ibudilast.

Ling favours Pterostilbene, a natural PDE4 inhibitor. Pterostilbene has many other modes of action, including relating to inflammation, diabetes, aging and even cancer.



Polytherapy is becoming fashionable these days and it is about time too.  Here it is all about MS (Multiple Sclerosis):-


UK to test existing drugs as treatment for MS in world-first trial

“Ultimately, MS will be treated with a combination of drugs,” said Gray. “You’ll have immunomodulatory drugs and anti-inflammatory drugs that stop the immune attacks, and they will be combined with treatments that can protect nerves from damage, and treatments that can repair the damaged myelin. That should stop MS.”


Each drug, given individually, will not deliver a dramatic result, but in combination the effective can be substantial.

Autism also requires polytherapy.  A few small steps can take you a large stride forwards. 

I did once consider using the analogy of fixing an old car, but I thought people might not like it and also autism develops very early in life not at the end; but Professor Ramaekers used the analogy on me, so I will follow suit.

You may need to fix many things on an old car, to get it back to its former glory.  The more problems you fix, the better the result will be.  You just have to start and keep on going.

In autism, and car restoration, the order in which you fix things does matter.  You probably need to learn this the hard way.

In a near perfect car (Asperger’s) really small issues, like faulty electric windows or squeaky suspension, can be extremely annoying, though the car remains perfectly functional; it gets you from A to B.

Pentoxifylline, by itself, is not going to “cure” anyone’s autism, but for some people it will be another step in that direction.


Another old idea has resurfaced - sodium phenylbutyrate (shortened to NaPB).

I think this drug was used for completely the wrong reasons, by a tiny number of people, a decade ago, but now common mouse models of autism are showing that this pan-HDAC inhibitor and ER-stress inhibitor has potent beneficial effects.  It is changing gene expression via an epigenetic mechanism.

If you look on Google, it appears as another quack therapy.

Four autism treatments that worry physicians – LA Times in 2009

Four that worry physicians. The Chicago Tribune examined four treatments in depth. Medical experts said that the therapies have not been proved to help children with autism and that each also carries risks. 

#4 Phenylbutyrate

Kennedy Krieger Institute: “No research conducted into use for autism.” -- Trine Tsouderos and Patricia Callahan

Patricia Kane, who calls herself "the queen of fatty acid therapy," initially sounds like a skeptic of alternative autism treatments. She distances herself from the Defeat Autism Now! approach and says hyperbaric oxygen therapy, IVIG and chelation drugs all can be harmful.

"If you could see what happens to children when they're given some of these crazy interventions that ruin their life, and it's so painful," said Kane, whose office is in New Jersey. "Parents say, 'Patricia Kane will tell us the truth,' and I believe parents deserve the medical truth when it comes to their children."

One of her fans is Kent Heckenlively, a California science teacher who writes for, self-described as the "daily web newspaper of the autism epidemic." After spending "a couple of hundred thousands" on treatments, from chelation to stem cell therapy, for his daughter with autism, Heckenlively said Kane appealed to him in part because her protocol includes lab tests run by the prestigious Kennedy Krieger Institute.

"I can trust them, I think," Heckenlively said.

Kane, who points to neuroinflammation as a feature of autism, discusses Pardo's study in a chapter she co-wrote on autism treatments for the book "Food and Nutrients in Disease Management."

Kane says many children with autism have a buildup in their brains of a substance called very-long-chain fatty acids. Her "PK Protocol" -- named after her initials -- is aimed at burning them off with a prescription drug, phenylbutyrate, that is normally used to treat extremely rare genetic disorders in which ammonia builds up in the body.

Side effects of phenylbutyrate include vomiting, rectal bleeding, peptic ulcer disease, irregular heartbeat and depression. No clinical trials have evaluated this drug as an autism therapy, and the idea that very-long-chain fatty acids have a role in autism is not proven by science.

Kane is not a medical doctor. When treating children with autism, she says, she works in concert with the child's physician, who supervises treatment.

She said she holds a doctorate in nutrition that was issued by Columbia Pacific University, an unaccredited institution that was shut down after a lengthy court battle with the state of California. An administrative law judge in 1997 found that the school awarded excessive credit for prior experiential learning, failed to employ qualified faculty and didn't meet requirements for issuing degrees.

Kane said Columbia Pacific granted her a doctorate after the school "consolidated my work," which Kane described as "clinical work" and continuing medical education courses for doctors. Her doctorate is valid, she said, because it was issued before the university ran into problems with the state.

Last year she was the subject of a television news investigation about her work with patients with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. The disease, which affects motor neurons, is a death sentence.

but now in 2021, things have changed:-


Sodium phenylbutyrate reduces repetitive self-grooming behavior and rescues social and cognitive deficits in mouse models of autism

We found that acute and chronic treatment of NaPB remarkably improved, not only core ASD symptoms, including repetitive behaviors and sociability deficit, but also cognitive impairment in the BTBR mice. NaPB substantially induced histone acetylation in the brain of the BTBR mice. Intriguingly, the therapeutic effects of NaPB on autistic-like behaviors, such as repetitive behaviors, impaired sociability, and cognitive deficit also showed in the valproic acid (VPA)–induced mouse model of autism

These findings suggest that NaPB may provide a novel therapeutic approach for the treatment of patients with ASD.

Correcting miss-expressed genes is the holy grail for the treatment of many diseases and in particular for all those parents whose child has a single gene type of autism.  In this blog I also call them DEGs (differentially expressed genes); everyone with autism has some DEGs. There is a lot in this blog about HDAC inhibitors, these can modify gene expression via the epigenome.  HDAC inhitors therefore can potentially fix DEGs.  NaPB was approved 25 years ago by the FDA to treat urea cycle disorders and is used in children over 20 kg.  It is not cheap and as usual it is much more expensive in the United States, at a high dose it is crazily expensive like cancer drugs, many of which are also HDAC inhibitors.  NaPB is another bulk chemical they put in tablets and multiply that cost by whatever they feel like. There is a reaction against this trend in some countries, for example using cheap generic Potassium Bromide for Dravet syndrome, instead of the overly expensive tablets. 

NaPB is used off-label to treat ALS/motor neuron disease.


Wednesday, 30 October 2019

More Research to support a Trial of Clemastine in Autism and particularly in Pitt Hopkins


Clemastine is an old antihistamine drug that we saw in earlier posts can stimulate oligodendrocytes to work harder and produce more myelin.

Myelin is needed to learn new skills and to control your body. It only starts to form in the third trimester, as the brain begins to grow rapidly. Myelination continues after birth but the rate appears to be controlled by social/emotional exposure.  The more isolated the baby is, the less myelin is produced.


Interruption of the myelination process is known to cause long term problems.

Loss of myelin and lack of remyelination underlies Multiple Sclerosis.

It appears that loss of myelin may underlie cognitive loss in regressive autism, childhood disintegrative disorder and adult hypoxia.  First the myelin layer is lost and, depending on the underlying dysfunction, the neuron may die.  If it is just a case of lost myelin this can potentially be repaired.

Girls with Rett syndrome regress and lose previously acquired skills at about 18 months.  Is the loss of skills also a manifestation of a loss of myelin?  If so, can this loss of skills be controlled to minimize its effect?

In a previous post we have looked at the repurposing of Clemastine to improve remyelination.  At high doses this is an emerging therapy for Multiple Sclerosis (MS).  MS is a progressive disease where myelin is repeatedly lost.  Myelin is not permanent and constantly needs to be “remyelinated”.

As Ling has noted, the Pitt Hopkins syndrome researchers have published their results looking at mouse models of both Pitt Hopkins and broader autism and they have found that the same oligodendrocyte genes are indeed dysregulated in all these cases.
We already knew that myelin in idiopathic autism is thinner than it should be, which was why I was originally looking at ways to enhance myelination.

The new research gives further support for remyelination as a target for improving learning, cognitive function and motor skills in autism.  The new data shows that this likely particularly applies to those with Pitt Hopkins syndrome.  This syndrome is caused by a lack of Transcription Factor 4 (TCF4) when one of the two copies of its gene is not functional.  A more modest lack of TC4 is likely to be much more common that Pitt Hopkins itself.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is genetically heterogeneous in nature with convergent symptomatology, suggesting dysregulation of common molecular pathways. We analyzed transcriptional changes in the brains of five independent mouse models of Pitt-Hopkins Syndrome (PTHS), a syndromic ASD caused by autosomal dominant mutation in TCF4, and identified considerable overlap in differentially expressed genes (DEGs). Gene and cell-type enrichment analyses of these DEGs highlighted oligodendrocyte dysregulation and we confirmed the myelin-associated transcriptional signature in two additional mouse models of syndromic ASD (Ptenm3m4/m3m4, Mecp2tm1.1Bird). We subsequently validated oligodendrocyte deficits in our Tcf4 mouse model which showed inefficient oligodendrocyte maturation in both an isolated oligodendrocyte in vitro cell culture system and ex vivo at day 24 (P24) and day 42 (P42). Furthermore, we used transmission electron microscopy (TEM) to visualize myelination in the corpus callosum (CC) of Tcf4+/tr and Tcf4+/+ littermates, observing a significant decrease in the proportion of myelinated axons in the CC of Tcf4+/tr mice compared to Tcf4+/+ littermates. Similar to our ex vivo IHC results, we observed a significant reduction in the number of CNP-positive oligodendrocytes in primary cultures derived from Tcf4+/tr mice compared to Tcf4+/+ littermates. When comparing compound action potentials (CAP) using electrophysiology, we show the ratio of N1/N2 is significantly reduced in the Tcf4+/tr mice compared to Tcf4+/+ littermates, indicative of a greater proportion of CAP traveling down unmyelinated axons. Moreover, we integrated syndromic PTHS mouse model DEGs with human ASD genes (SFARI) and human idiopathic ASD postmortem brain RNA-seq, and found significant enrichment of overlapping DEGs and common biological pathways associated with myelination. Remarkably, we show that DEGs from syndromic ASD mouse models can be used to identify human idiopathic ASD cases from controls. These results from seven independent mouse models of ASD are validated in human brain, implicating disruptions in oligodendrocyte biology as shared mechanisms in ASD pathology.

Here is more on the same paper:-

Genes involved in the formation of myelin, a fatty substance that sheathes neurons, are altered in brain tissue from autistic people and in several mouse models. The mice also have unusually few myelinated nerve fibers.
Researchers presented the unpublished findings yesterday at the 2019 Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in Chicago, Illinois.
“In general, across the whole spectrum, there’s a defect in myelination,” says Brady Maher, lead investigator at the Lieber Institute for Brain Development in Baltimore, Maryland.
Myelination is the process by which neuronal fibers are coated in myelin. Myelin is made by brain cells called oligodendrocytes, and it enables fast neuronal signaling.
Maher and his colleagues saw hints that myelination is disrupted in Pitt-Hopkins syndrome, an autism-related condition caused by mutations in a gene called TCF4. Children with this rare syndrome are slow to learn to walk, and most are minimally verbal; some have autism.
The researchers analyzed gene expression patterns in five mouse models of this syndrome, each with a different mutation in TCF4. They found that in all of the mice, genes involved in myelination are among those with altered expression.

The researchers then compared gene expression patterns of the mutant mice with those of two other autism mouse models: mice with mutations in MECP2 or PTEN. All three mouse models show alterations in the expression of a shared set of 34 genes, most of which are involved in myelination.
The same genes show atypical expression in two independent gene-expression datasets from autistic people, the researchers found.
Maher says his team is investigating why the TCF4 mutant mice have too few oligodendrocytes. They are also testing whether drugs that enhance myelination reverse the mice’s problems.

Clemastine in Autism

Several readers of this blog have reported a positive effect from Clemastine, you can find their comments in earlier posts.

Monty, aged 16 with ASD, has been using it for many months and it will be added to my Polypill at the next update.

In the US Clemastine is no longer available in the OTC form.  It is available as a generic with a prescription

In the rest of the world it is called Tavegil, or Tavegyl and being a common hay fever drug is usually OTC (no prescription).

In the Baltic states 20 tablets cost Eur 5 (USD 5.50). In the United Kingdom 60 tablets costs GBP 10 (USD 13).  You may have to ask the pharmacy to order it for you, it is not widely stocked, or order it online.

A 1 mg tablet of Clemastine contains 1.34 mg of Clemastine hydrogen fumarate.  This can be confusing because one product is marked 1mg and the identical tablet is elsewhere marked 1.34mg.

The US product by Teva is Clemastine 2mg containing 2.7 mg of Clemastine hydrogen fumarate

The experimental dose in Multiple Sclerosis is so high it causes drowsiness.  Clemastine affects histamine H1 receptors in the brain and so makes you sleepy.

My “autism dose” is less than the hay fever dose and is 1mg Clemastine (containing 1.34 mg of Clemastine hydrogen fumarate) taken in the evening.

Some readers are giving a morning dose and an evening dose, as you would for hay fever.  I would expect this to have a greater effect on oligodendrocytes, but will come at the cost of a degree of drowsiness, which may or may not be important.

I think people should be given clemastine immediately after a regression into autism and also anyone suffering as result of hypoxia. We saw the MRI of a man treated with clemastine after hypoxia in an earlier post and we saw the myelin damage and its repair.

Given 18 months of age is the typical age for the first regression in autism, perhaps pediatricians should take note? Perhaps the Johns Hopkins doctors should try using it on their patients with mitochondrial disorders?

I would also think those with what was called CDD (childhood disintegrative disorder) would be likely beneficiaries.

Comments so far suggest that clemastine benefits some people more than others, but this is exactly what you would expect.  In the case of the man with hypoxia, clemastine really was a silver bullet, it was given very promptly and loss of myelin was his only problem.  Most people with severe autism have more problems than just patchy myelin.

Treatment Window

In some single gene autism there does appear to be a treatment window and this has been confirmed in animal models. One example is the very expensive use of the drug Rapamycin in TSC (tuberous sclerosis complex).

Multiple Critical Periods for Rapamycin Treatment to Correct Structural Defects in Tsc-1-Suppressed Brain

Many interventions however do seem to be beneficial regardless of age.

This can be summed up as “it's never too late, but the sooner you start the better the result will be”.

Will a toddler with Pitt Hopkins learn to walk much earlier if taking Clemastine?  The logic is there to support this.

Will a girl with Rett Syndrome regress less far if taking Clemastine, during the regression?


Most parents naturally hesitate to give drugs to treat children with autism. They do not hesitate to give numerous drugs to their elderly relatives, who are the ones who are most likely to get side effects and have much less time to benefit from them.

Some drugs are much safer than others and the irony is that the drugs commonly used to treat autism by psychiatrists are the ones with known problems.

It appears that many very safe existing drugs can be used to treat features of autism.

Do you wait a decade, or likely more, to see if a safe old hay fever drug might improve cognition and/or motor skills in your case of autism or Pitt Hopkins? Or just buy these hay fever pills and see for yourself?

7 Previous posts on/including Clemastine:- 

Thursday, 26 September 2019

Treatable Human Endogenous Retroviruses (HERVs) in Multiple Sclerosis (MS), ALS and other Neurological Diseases – an Enemy from Within?

A microglial cell, labelled in green, contacts and attacks a myelinated axon (in red). In the presence of the pHERV-W envelope protein, this interaction leads to axonal injury. The blue structures are cell nuclei. Credit: HHU / Joel Gruchot / Patrick Küry

It is surprising that only about 2% of human DNA encodes the 20,000 or so genes we all have.  The other 98% used to be called junk DNA.

About 8% of your DNA is made up of Endogenous retroviruses (ERVs) that have been picked up during evolution and most of which have been inactivated and can indeed be regarded as junk. Some of these old viruses that became part of human DNA remain fully functional, can be activated; they are implicated in disease ranging from Multiple Sclerosis (MS), to cancer, to schizophrenia and ALS (motor neuron disease).

The best documented ERV is the one that affects some people with MS, it is called HERV-W  (the H is for Human).  Only in the presence of a protein encoded by this virus can the microglia cells attack the myelin layer on axons.  In this kind of MS, if you could switch off the HERV-W virus you would solve the remyelination problem.

The thing to remember is that MS is a family of conditions and HERV-W may only be relevant to specific sub-types.  The recent research (see below) produced the image at the start of today’s post, where we actually see the microglia (green) mistakenly attacking the healthy myelin on axons (red).

Multiple sclerosis: Endogenous retrovirus HERV-W key to nerve tissue damage

As outlined by first author Dr. David Kremer, the envelope (ENV) protein of the pathogenic human endogenous retrovirus type W (pHERV-W) was found to be a major contributor to nerve damage in MS. In collaboration with research teams in the U.S. and Canada, the authors demonstrated that the ENV protein drives CNS resident microglial cells to contact and damage myelinated axons.                                                                                      

There is a broad repertoire of immunomodulatory drugs that effectively treat the inflammatory aspects of relapsing multiple sclerosis (MS). However, axonal degeneration, which occurs mainly in progressive MS, is still not understood and cannot be treated pharmaceutically. As it is the major factor contributing to clinical disability in MS, it represents an unmet clinical need. A recently completed phase IIb study has demonstrated that anti-pathogenic human endogenous retrovirus type W (pHERV-W) envelope protein (ENV) treatment results in a significant decrease of neurodegenerative brain atrophy in treated MS patients. For these results, the work presented here offers an explanation by demonstrating that, via myeloid cells, pHERV-W ENV directly harms axons.

Axonal degeneration is central to clinical disability and disease progression in multiple sclerosis (MS). Myeloid cells such as brain-resident microglia and blood-borne monocytes are thought to be critically involved in this degenerative process. However, the exact underlying mechanisms have still not been clarified. We have previously demonstrated that human endogenous retrovirus type W (HERV-W) negatively affects oligodendroglial precursor cell (OPC) differentiation and remyelination via its envelope protein pathogenic HERV-W (pHERV-W) ENV (formerly MS-associated retrovirus [MSRV]-ENV). In this current study, we investigated whether pHERV-W ENV also plays a role in axonal injury in MS. We found that in MS lesions, pHERV-W ENV is present in myeloid cells associated with axons. Focusing on progressive disease stages, we could then demonstrate that pHERV-W ENV induces a degenerative phenotype in microglial cells, driving them toward a close spatial association with myelinated axons. Moreover, in pHERV-W ENV-stimulated myelinated cocultures, microglia were found to structurally damage myelinated axons. Taken together, our data suggest that pHERV-W ENV-mediated microglial polarization contributes to neurodegeneration in MS. Thus, this analysis provides a neurobiological rationale for a recently completed clinical study in MS patients showing that antibody-mediated neutralization of pHERV-W ENV exerts neuroprotective effects.

Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis (RRMS)

Most MS starts out as so-called Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis (RRMS) and so is the focus of much research. An antibody called GNbAC1 has been developed to specifically target the protein MSRV-Env that is produced by the old human endogenous retrovirus type W.

GNbAC1 for RRMS 

In vitro and in vivo studies showed that GNbAC1 neutralizes MSRV-Env, reducing the inflammatory response and allowing the remyelination repair process to restart.

I think this is an excellent example of how to translate complicated science into a practical therapy.  I just hate to think how much money this therapy will cost.

Or just Antivirals?

I did wonder about a less expensive therapy to block the MSRV-Env protein from activating microglia to destroy myelin.  Why not use a relatively cheap antiviral drug to dampen the virus itself, so it does not make the harmful protein?

Unlike most antibiotics, antiviral drugs do not destroy their target pathogen; instead they inhibit their development.

Antiviral drugs normally have to be developed to target a specific virus, but you might just get lucky with an existing drug.

In the case of HIV, a combination of three drugs is used TDF (tenofovir), EFV (efavirenz) and either 3TC (lamivudine) or FTC (emtricitabine).  This therapy has been hugely successful.

The anti-herpes antivirals include valacyclovir (Valtrex), famciclovir (Famvir), and acyclovir (Zovirax).

In the case of Multiple Sclerosis, I did find a study that used acyclovir.  It did not cure the condition, but it did significantly reduce exacerbations.

I am afraid nobody seems to want a cheap drug for MS, when the other only partially effective ones can cost $50,000 a year. Acyclovir is much more expensive in the US than elsewhere but nothing like the price of the new MS drugs.

It may of course be a coincidence that Acyclovir reduces exacerbations in MS and may involve an entirely different mechanism.

Human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) beyond MS

Drugs for MS are a huge business for pharmaceutical companies and this is why the research is advanced.

HERVs have been implicated in ALS (motor neuron disease) and schizophrenia.  There is even some research on HERVs and autism.

It is usually the Herpes virus that gets mentioned in the context of autism. It is probably one of hundreds of possible triggers that, when combined with other “hits” and genetic predispositions, may lead to autism.

Any virus can affect gene expression and so any virus has the potential to cause harm to a developing brain.  This is often all "autism" is, the result of some damage at a critical point in the brain's development. That same event in a teenager does no long term harm. 

Herpes virus may be a trigger for autism

“We’re not saying that HSV-2 is responsible for infecting the [fetal] brain and causing autism,” stresses senior author Ian Lipkin, an infectious disease expert and epidemiologist at Columbia. Indeed, fetal infection with HSV-2 is so serious that it frequently leads to miscarriages or stillbirths. Rather, Lipkin suspects that HSV-2 is just one among many environmental insults that, when they arrive at a vulnerable point in fetal development in women predisposed to damaging reactions, may trigger ASD in the fetus. That idea comports with a body of previous work, like this Swedish study that found that the hospitalization of a woman for any kind of infection during pregnancy increased the risk of the baby developing ASD by 30%.
Some scientists are skeptical that inflammatory molecules alone could be responsible, in part because of the big changes in brain structure that arise in autistic children in the first 2 years of life, just as symptoms of ASD emerge. For instance, a study published in Nature last week documents abnormal overgrowth of the surface of the brain in 6- to 12-month-old babies who go on to be diagnosed with ASD.

Are the 'viral' agents of MS, ALS and schizophrenia buried in our genome?

Viruses hid themselves in your ancestors' DNA; now they're waking up

What if the missing 'environmental' factor in some of our deadliest neurological diseases were really written in our genome? Researchers explain how viruses ended up in our DNA -- and what puts them in the frame in unsolved diseases like multiple sclerosis.

The enemy within
A whopping 8% of our DNA comes from viruses. Specifically, ones called retroviruses -- not because they're old, but because they reverse the normal process of reading DNA to write themselves into their host's genome.
Retroviruses are old though: they began merging with our earliest, primordial ancestors millions of years ago. Over the millennia, most of their remnants in our DNA -- known as human endogenous retroviruses or HERVs -- have been silenced by mutations. Others, which had evolved to fend off rival viruses, formed the prototypical immune system and to this day protect us from infection.
However, HERVs might also be the missing causative link in major 'unsolved' neurological diseases.
"HERVs have been implicated in the onset and progression of multiple sclerosis [MS], amyotrophic lateral sclerosis [ALS] and schizophrenia [SCZ]," says senior author Prof. Patrick Kuery. "Dormant HERVs can be reactivated by environmental factors such as inflammation, mutations, drugs, or infection with other viruses, so could provide a mechanism for their well-established epidemiological link to these disorders."

Full paper: -

Neural Cell Responses Upon Exposure to Human Endogenous Retroviruses

Human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) are ancient retroviral elements, which invaded the human germ line several million years ago. Subsequent retrotransposition events amplified these sequences, resulting in approximately 8% of the human genome being composed of HERV sequences today. These genetic elements, normally dormant within human genomes, can be (re)-activated by environmental factors such as infections with other viruses, leading to the expression of viral proteins and, in some instances, even to viral particle production. Several studies have shown that the expression of these retroviral elements correlates with the onset and progression of neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Further studies provided evidence on additional roles for HERVs in schizophrenia (SCZ). Since these diseases are still not well understood, HERVs might constitute a new category of pathogenic components that could significantly change our understanding of these pathologies. Moreover, knowledge about their mode of action might also help to develop novel and more powerful approaches for the treatment of these complex diseases. Therefore, the main scope of this review is a description of the current knowledge on the involvement of HERV-W and HERV-K in neurological disease specifically focusing on the effects they exert on neural cells of the central nervous system.

Importantly, several studies were able to show that inflammation plays a major role in HERV activation 

SCZ is a complex neuropsychiatric disorder characterized by a variety of cognitive, emotional, and perceptual disturbances. Pathophysiologically, SCZ features decreased brain volume, loss of myelin, and altered astrocyte function (Archer, 2010). In contrast to MS and ALS, both HERV-W and HERV-K have been weakly linked to SCZ based on PCR amplification from CSF and post-mortem brains as well as on protein antigenemia (Yolken et al., 2000Karlsson et al., 2001Frank et al., 2005Perron et al., 2008), while another study revealed upregulation of HERV-W ENV transcripts in plasma samples of SCZ patients (Huang et al., 2011). Moreover, a new study provides evidence that, in early stages of this disease, HERV-K methylation in peripheral blood is reduced (Mak et al., 2019). Of note, these observations contradict an earlier report suggesting that HERV-W expression is reduced in SCZ patients (Weis et al., 2007). The disparity between these reports may reflect different experimental approaches or a differential use of anti-psychotic medications in SCZ patients.

We here present collected evidence that endogenous retroviral elements acting either as viral particles or via their proteins influence neural cells in the context of degenerative CNS diseases. Once thought to be primarily involved in cell transformation (Grabski et al., 2019) and inflammation (Perron and Lang, 2010), emerging data suggests a direct role of these elements in glial and neuronal injury, which in fact goes beyond previous descriptions on the activity of a gliotoxin (Menard et al., 1998). In light of additional observations on the role of ERVs in regulating stem cell potential and fate acquisition (Gautam et al., 2017), the findings describing impacts on committed or mature cells of the CNS are probably not too surprising but warrant future investigations, even more so since neural stem cells are also involved in brain pathology and regeneration. Moreover, the currently still unmet clinical need to effectively treat neurodegeneration necessitates novel therapeutic approaches. Whether similar mechanisms also apply to activation of transposable elements implicated in, for example, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS; Almenar-Perez et al., 2019) and to what degree currently used neutralizing antibodies can be exploited in order to prevent neural cell activation and/or neurodegeneration needs to be elucidated in the future. In this regard, it remains to be shown whether HERV-employed signaling pathways and epigenetic silencing mechanisms can be used for biomedical translation.


Figure 1 HERV-mediated effects on neural cells. This illustration summarizes origin and observed molecular effects of HERW-W and HERV-K on cells of the central nervous system. Arrow starting points indicate cellular sources of HERV particles or proteins (red dots), whereas arrowheads point to influenced cell types. Modulated processes are shown in gray boxes, and regulated molecules are highlighted in red next to each cell type. The question mark next to TDP-43 refers to its postulated regulation in neurons. Whether microglia and astroglia respond to HERVs in an auto- and/or paracrine way and whether neurons react to internal and/or extracellular HERVs remains to be shown. OPCs: oligodendroglial progenitor cells; NO: nitric oxide; CRP: C-reactive protein; BDNF: brain-derived neurotrophic factor; DRD3: dopamine receptor D3; TRPC3: short transient receptor potential channel 3; DISC1: disrupted in schizophrenia 1; TDP-43: TAR DNA-binding protein 43.

HERVs, retroviral sequences integrated into the genome during evolution, are now known to represent 8% of the human genome.

These were recently shown to comprise copies that retain potential to express retroviral proteins or particles, and can be abnormally expressed in autoimmune, neurodegenerative, chronic inflammatory diseases, and cancer.
Environmental factors such as specific viral infections were shown to potently activate HERVs under tissue-specific and temporal conditions.
Of several diseases in which abnormal activation and expression of HERV proteins have been reported, studies over recent decades have led to a proof of concept that HERVs play a key role in the pathogenesis of MS and ALS.
HERV-W and HERV-K Env proteins induce pathogenic effects in vitro and in vivo that are relevant to the pathognomonic features of these diseases.
These endogenous retroviruses are potential novel therapeutic targets that are now being addressed with innovative therapeutic strategies in clinical trials.
The causes of multiple sclerosis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis have long remained elusive. A new category of pathogenic components, normally dormant within human genomes, has been identified: human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs). These represent ∼8% of the human genome, and environmental factors have reproducibly been shown to trigger their expression. The resulting production of envelope (Env) proteins from HERV-W and HERV-K appears to engage pathophysiological pathways leading to the pathognomonic features of MS and ALS, respectively. Pathogenic HERV elements may thus provide a missing link in understanding these complex diseases. Moreover, their neutralization may represent a promising strategy to establish novel and more powerful therapeutic approaches.

HERVs Expression in Autism Spectrum Disorders


The percentage of HERV-H and HERV-W positive samples was higher among ASD patients compared to HCs, while HERV-K was similarly represented and HERV-E virtually absent in both groups. The quantitative evaluation shows that HERV-H and HERV-W are differentially expressed in the two groups, with HERV-H being more abundantly expressed and, conversely, HERV-W, having lower abundance, in PBMCs from ASDs compared to healthy controls. PMBCs from ASDs also showed an increased potential to up-regulate HERV-H expression upon stimulation in culture, unlike HCs. Furthermore we report a negative correlation between expression levels of HERV-H and age among ASD patients and a statistically significant higher expression in ASD patients with Severe score in Communication and Motor Psychoeducational Profile-3.


Specific HERV families have a distinctive expression profile in ASD patients compared to HCs. We propose that HERV-H expression be explored in larger samples of individuals with autism spectrum in order to determine its utility as a novel biological trait of this complex disorder.

Recent studies suggest that autism spectrum disorders (ASD) result from interactions between genetic and environmental factors, whose possible links could be represented by epigenetic mechanisms. Here, we investigated the transcriptional activity of three human endogenous retrovirus (HERV) families, in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from Albanian ASD children, by quantitative real-time PCR. We aimed to confirm the different expression profile already found in Italian ASD children, and to highlight any social and family health condition emerging from information gathered through a questionnaire, to be included among environmental risk factors. The presence of increased HERV-H transcriptional activity in all autistic patients could be understood as a constant epigenetic imprinting of the disease, potentially useful for early diagnosis and for the development of effective novel therapeutic strategies.

Overall, the data obtained in the present study lead us to further support the hypothesis that HERV transcriptional activity is influenced by all the factors mentioned above. Additional work is required to determine if HERV-H expression could be proposed as a biological marker, useful for early detection of children at high risk for ASD, before the appearance of clinical symptoms and for the development of effective new therapeutic strategies. To this end, an in-depth characterization of the potential role of HERV-H in ASD is the major objective of a study currently in progress in murine models. Currently, up to 2% of children worldwide are estimated to be diagnosed with an ASD (Pedersen et al., 2014) and the consistent increment in the prevalence of ASD is considered a pressing challenge for the global public health system. Because children represent more than a third of the Albanian population (Albanian Institute of Statistics 2011) autism is a serious socio-economic problem and its early diagnosis could represent a significant improvement in the treatment of the disease. In fact, if the autistic condition is diagnosed early, a growing repertoire of evidence-based therapies can be applied to give children the best possible chance of life.

Etiotropic and Pathogenetic Therapy of Autism Spectrum Disorder: Case Series of 6 Children

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that reveals itself by social communication problems, restrictive/repetitive behavior, and language impairment. ASD is a growing problem in the USA and in the world with no commonly-accepted etiology resulting in the absence of effective methods of treatment. Based on more than 80 scientific publications we are proposing the following understanding of ASD: it is a genetic disorder, in which some changes in DNA are resulting from a congenital mother to fetus transmitted infection and maternal immune activation. The infections and maternal immune activation result in oxidative stress and production of pro-inflammatory cytokines and other mediators. Based on this understanding, we developed a method of long-term etiotropic and pathogenetic therapy tailored to major chronic/latent infections, inflammation and immune system aberration. We present six cases of ASD treatment, which included the antiviral medication Valacyclovir and five nutritional supplements. The presented results are based on five cycles of treatment continued for 5 months. In all six cases the treatment resulted in social communication skills and behavioral improvements well as positive changes in the physical and psychological conditions. These improvements covariated with a tendency to normalization of blood and immune parameters. Social communication skills, behavioral, physical and psychological improvements also positively affected parents whose subjected quality of life increased over course of the treatment. According to parents of these children, the proposed treatment had superior efficacy compared to other types of treatment that their children underwent before.

Valacyclovir improves cognition in bipolar patients

A 4-month course of the oral antiviral agent valacyclovir boosted cognition in herpes simplex virus-1–seropositive patients with bipolar disorder and cognitive impairment in a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial.

Anti herpes Virus–Specific Treatment and Cognition in Schizophrenia: A Test-of-Concept Randomized Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Trial


To test our hypothesis that valacyclovir, an antiherpes virus–specific medication, added to antipsychotics (APs) would improve cognitive performance and psychopathology among schizophrenia subjects exposed to neurotropic herpes simplex virus, type 1 (HSV1).


Using a double-blind placebo-controlled design, we randomized 24 HSV1-seropositive schizophrenia subjects to receive either valacyclovir (n = 12) or placebo (n = 12) for 18 weeks in addition to stable doses of APs. Valacyclovir dose was stabilized at 1.5 g twice daily orally. At each visit, subjects were evaluated for severity of psychopathology and side effects using standardized scales and a study-specific semistructured checklist. A computerized neurocognitive battery validated on both schizophrenia and healthy subjects was administered at baseline and follow-up. Intent-to-treat analysis, using linear regression models that included all randomized subjects, were used to examine differential changes in cognition and psychopathology scores over 18 weeks between valacyclovir and placebo, accounting for placebo response.


Valacyclovir group improved in verbal memory, working memory, and visual object learning compared with placebo group. The effect sizes (Cohen’s d) were 0.79 for working memory, 1.14 for immediate verbal memory, and 0.97 for the visual object learning. Psychotic symptom severity did not improve.


Supplemental valacyclovir may alleviate impairments in cognitive domains that are often observed in schizophrenia but not psychotic symptoms in those exposed to HSV1. If replicated, this approach could provide a novel strategy to treat cognitive impairments in a subgroup of schizophrenia subjects who can be reliably identified using a blood test.


There is a great deal going on in the world of MS research and if you have MS you might as well consider becoming an early adopter.

As expected, the research on how these old viruses, that should be dormant in our DNA, might play a role in autism is not very advanced.

Some people with autism do take antiviral drugs and I think their caregivers think this relates to a virus they have acquired recently or comes from the mother. Perhaps it is an unidentified virus from that 8% of your DNA that has become activated?

In MS the story is complex but now we know for sure what the virus is, where it came from and what it does. You can defeat it with a tailor-made antibody called GNbAC1 or perhaps just beat it down a little with the common antiviral drug Acyclovir.

Note that antiviral drugs each only have an effect on certain types of virus.

Do HERVs really materially affect some people with autism, and its big brothers bipolar and schizophrenia? There is some limited evidence that they may.

People who report that their children with autism do indeed improve on an antiviral drug are unlikely to ever know which virus was the problem and it may not be the one they thought it was, but it is not a crazy idea.  If it reduces the symptoms of autism without causing troubling side effects, why not?  It is going to work for most autism? Probably not.

For people with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) the science is clear and unambiguous, you need to wipe out the protein called MSRV-Env.

As far as this blog is concerned, we already covered antibiotics in depth.

and today we covered antivirals.  These are the “anti- drugs” that our reader Tanya referred to as not being useful in her case of autism; I think she will be in the majority.  You have to treat your “minority” case of autism, which is what makes it difficult. 

Almost every common autism treatment strategy is misrepresented as a wonder therapy; that is how you sell books, supplements, lab tests and even now I see expensive "training" courses. The reality is somewhat messy and less convenient, but if you read the science great progress does seem to be possible in many cases.