Low doses of antianxiety drugs rebalance the autistic brain

New research in mice suggests that autism is characterized by reduced activity of inhibitory neurons and increased activity of excitatory neurons in the brain, but balance can be restored with low doses of a well-known class of drugs currently used in much higher doses to treat anxiety and epileptic seizures. The findings, which are reported in the March 19th issue of the Cell Press journal Neuron, point to a new therapeutic approach to managing autism.

"These are very exciting results because they suggest that existing drugs—called —might be useful in treatment of the core deficits in autism," says senior author Dr. William Catterall of the University of Washington, in Seattle.

In addition to finding that mice with autistic characteristics had an imbalance between the inhibitory and excitatory neurons in their brains, Dr. Catterall and his team found that reducing the effectiveness of in normal mice also induced some autism-related deficits in social behavior. Classical benzodiazepine drugs had the opposite effect, increasing the activity of inhibitory neurons and diminishing autistic behaviors.

"Our results provide strong evidence that increasing inhibitory neurotransmission is an effective approach to improvement of social interactions, repetitive behaviors, and cognitive deficits in a well-established animal model of autism, having some similar behavioral features as human ," says Dr. Catterall.

Therapeutic approaches to treat autistic traits in animal studies or in have primarily focused on reducing the activity of excitatory neurons, with only modest success to date. The results reported by Dr. Catterall and his colleagues suggest that augmenting the activity of opposing, inhibitory neurons could be an alternative strategy.

Clinical trials of classical benzodiazepines and next-generation drugs that have a similar mechanism of action are now needed to determine whether the researchers' findings in mice are relevant to humans. Astra-Zeneca and the National Institutes of Health have initiated one such trial.

More information: Neuron, Han et al.: "Enhancement of Inhibitory Neurotransmission by GABAA Receptors Having 2,3-Subunits Ameliorates Behavioral Deficits in a Mouse Model of Autism." dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2014.01.016

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Recommended for you

New ALS associated gene identified using innovative strategy

7 hours ago

Using an innovative exome sequencing strategy, a team of international scientists led by John Landers, PhD, at the University of Massachusetts Medical School has shown that TUBA4A, the gene encoding the Tubulin Alpha 4A protein, ...

Can bariatric surgery lead to severe headache?

7 hours ago

Bariatric surgery may be a risk factor for a condition that causes severe headaches, according to a study published in the October 22, 2014, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurol ...

Bipolar disorder discovery at the nano level

7 hours ago

A nano-sized discovery by Northwestern Medicine scientists helps explain how bipolar disorder affects the brain and could one day lead to new drug therapies to treat the mental illness.

Brain simulation raises questions

11 hours ago

What does it mean to simulate the human brain? Why is it important to do so? And is it even possible to simulate the brain separately from the body it exists in? These questions are discussed in a new paper ...

Human skin cells reprogrammed directly into brain cells

11 hours ago

Scientists have described a way to convert human skin cells directly into a specific type of brain cell affected by Huntington's disease, an ultimately fatal neurodegenerative disorder. Unlike other techniques ...

User comments