Saturday, 6 September 2014

Tics, Ticks, Autism - Wnt signaling & PAK1

I was interested to receive a comment from a reader of this blog who finds that the anti-parasite drug Ivermectin has a major impact on her child’s  autism, debilitating tics and OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder).

Regular readers may recall that when looking at so-called PAK1 inhibitors, which look like the Holy Grail for both common cancers and autism, it turned out that two already exist.  One is an old anti-parasitic drug called Ivermectin and the other is a substance found in certain types of bee propolis from Brazil and New Zealand.

It then turned out that a handful of “alternative” practitioners in the US are already using Ivermectin for autism, but for entirely different reasons.  They believe that various parasites exist inside the children and cause/exacerbate autism.

I thought this was intriguing and quite likely another case of “the right therapy, for the wrong reason”.

Tics and Ticks

Tics are those sudden, repetitive involuntary actions that can vary from annoying to debilitating.

Ticks are tiny parasites that like to attach themselves to your skin, they can fall from trees/bushes or attach themselves to skin as you pass through long grass. Some ticks carry Lyme Disease.

Tics are common in autism, PANDAS, PANS and many forms of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder).

It seems that some “alternative” practitioners in the US are treating PANDAS and PANS on the assumption that it is caused by Lyme Disease.  Others are recommending “de-worming” for autism, on the assumption that intestinal parasites are to blame.

Here is a link to somebody writing about these alternative practitioners, for those who are curious.

My take

This all sound highly odd to me, partly because it seems that you have to keep taking the de-worming tablets for the long term.  With regular mild parasites found in developed countries, drugs therapy can eliminate the parasites.  In some tropical climates more aggressive parasites exist that are almost impossible to eradicate 100%.

So regular de-worming of humans in the United States, in 2014, sounds bizarre.

On the other hand, you cannot dispute when somebody finds their child’s tics and OCD have disappeared with the de-worming therapy and that they return when the therapy stops.

Is it, as I suggested in the early posts, that the PAK1 inhibiting properties of Ivermectin are behind its effect?  Hopefully yes, but I am not sure.  So I will take a look at Ivermectin and see if it has any other properties that could impact autism, tics and OCD.

Ivermectin - not just for your dog

Most people would only come across Ivermectin at the vet, but there is much more to it.

Discovered in the late-1970s, originating solely from a single microorganism isolated at the Kitasato Institute, Tokyo, Japan from Japanese soil, Ivermectin has had an immeasurably beneficial impact in improving the lives and welfare of billions of people throughout the world. Originally introduced as a veterinary drug, it kills a wide range of internal and external parasites in commercial livestock and companion animals. It was quickly discovered to be ideal in combating two of the world’s most devastating and disfiguring diseases which have plagued the world’s poor throughout the tropics for centuries. It is now being used free-of-charge as the sole tool in campaigns to eliminate both diseases globally. It has also been used to successfully overcome several other human diseases and new uses for it are continually being found.

The origins of ivermectin as a human drug are inextricably linked with Onchocerciasis (or River Blindness), a chronic human filarial disease caused by infection with Onchocerca volvulus worms. The disease causes visual damage for some 1–2 million people, around half of who will become blind.

Lymphatic Filariasis, also known as Elephantiasis, is another devastating, highly debilitating disease that threatens over 1 billion people in more than 80 countries. Over 120 million people are infected, 40 million of whom are seriously incapacitated and disfigured. The disease results from infection with filarial worms

Modes of Action

Let us look at the various modes of action proposed for Ivermectin.

1.     GABA

Initially, researchers believed that Ivermectin blocked neurotransmitters, acting on GABA-gated Cl channels, exhibiting potent disruption at GABA receptors in invertebrates and mammals.

In mammals the GABA receptors occur only in the central nervous system (CNS), i.e. in the brain and the spinal cord. But mammals have a so-called blood-brain barrier (BBB) that prevents microscopic objects and large molecules to get into the brain. Ivermectin, while paralyzing body-wall and pharyngeal muscle in nematodes has no such impact in mammals.  Consequently Ivermectin is much less toxic to mammals than to parasites without such a barrier, which allows quite high safety margins for use on livestock, pets and humans.

2.     Glutamate

Subsequently, researchers discovered that it was in fact glutamate-gated Cl channels (GUCl) that were the target of Ivermectin and related drugs.

3.     Reversing Immunosuppression

The growing body of evidence supports the theory that the rapid parasite clearance following Ivermectin treatment results not from the direct impact of the drug but via suppression of the ability of the parasite to secrete proteins that enable it to evade the host’s natural immune defence mechanism.

In a major breakthrough that comes after decades of research and nearly half a billion treatments in humans, scientists have finally unlocked how a key anti-parasitic drug kills the worms brought on by the filarial diseases river blindness and elephantitis

Regular readers will recall that a beneficial parasite therapy in inflammatory diseases is the TSO worm.  This worm also modulates the host’s immune system so as not to be ejected.  This calming of the over activated immune system appears to be beneficial in several conditions and possibly autism.

4.     Inhibitor of Wnt-TCF Pathway

Recent cancer research has shown the Ivermectin has a highly unexpected property; it can block a pathway called Wnt-TCF on which many cancers are dependent.

Wnt signaling is also a strong activator of mitochondrial biogenesis. This leads to increased production of reactive oxygen species (ROS), in other words oxidative stress, known to cause DNA and cellular damage.

Perhaps aberrant Wnt signaling is involved in the mechanism of autism?

Well it appears to be the case.

 Mounting attention is being focused on the canonical Wnt signaling pathway which has been implicated in the pathogenesis of autism in some our and other recent studies. The canonical Wnt pathway is involved in cell proliferation, differentiation and migration, especially during nervous system development. Given its various functions, dysfunction of the canonical Wnt pathway may exert adverse effects on neurodevelopment and therefore leads to the pathogenesis of autism.

5.     Inhibitor of PAK1

We already know from earlier in this blog, that Ivermectin is a PAK1 inhibitor.  Blocking PAK1 should prevent several common cancers, according to researchers at MIT, who also suggest that autism cannot occur without PAK1.\

Not entirely surprisingly, if you look into the cancer research you will see that PAK and WNT are interrelated.

p21-Activated kinase (PAK) interactswith Wnt signaling to regulate tissue polarity and gene expression

Wnt signaling is mediated by three classes of receptors, Frizzled, Ryk, and Ror. In Caenorhabditis elegans, Wnt signaling regulates the anterior/posterior polarity of the P7.p vulval lineage, and mutations in lin-17/Frizzled cause loss or reversal of P7.p lineage polarity. We found that pak-1/Pak (p21-activated kinase), along with putative activators of Pak, nck-1/Nck, and ced-10/Rac, regulates P7.p polarity. Mutations in these genes suppress the polarity defect of lin-17 mutants. Furthermore, mutations in pak-1, nck-1, and ced-10 cause constitutive dauer formation at 27 °C, a phenotype also observed in egl-20/Wnt and cam-1/Ror mutants. In HEK293T cells, Pak1 can antagonize canonical Wnt signaling. Moreover, overexpression of Ror2 leads to phosphorylation of Pak1. Together, these results indicate that Pak interacts with Wnt signaling to regulate tissue polarity and gene expression.

So there at least five possible effects that Ivermectin can have.

Too much Ivermectin is not good

According to the literature in the developing world, there are 200 million people ( currently taking Ivermectin, which is provided free for river blindness; some of those have been using the drug for over 20 years - so much is known about it.

It is suggested that at excessive doses, Ivermectin starts to cross the BBB and then affects the neurotransmitter GABA.  Ivermectin stimulates the release of the GABA in the presynaptic neurons and enhances its postsynaptic binding to its receptors. This increases the flow of chloride ions in the neurons, which causes hyperpolarization of the cell membranes. This on its turn disturbs normal nervous functions and causes a general blockage of the stimulus mechanisms in the CNS. The resulting cerebral and cortical deficits include mainly:
    • Ataxia (uncoordinated movements)
    • Hypermetria (excessive or disproportionate movements)
    • Disorientation
    • Hyperesthesia (excessive reaction to tactile stimuli)
    • Tremor (uncoordinated trembling or shaking movements)
    • Mydriasis (dilatation of the pupils); in cattle and cats also myosis (contraction of the pupils)
    • Recumbency (inability to rise)
    • Depression
    • Blindness
    • Coma
So, too much Ivermectin is not a good idea.

So why is Ivermectin good for Tics, OCD and Autism?

At low doses Ivermectin does not cross the BBB (blood brain barrier), but in autism it appears that the BBB can be more permeable than it should be.  So possibly Ivermectin produces an increase in GABA, like that caused by Valproic Acid.  Some people with autism find Valproic Acid very beneficial.

Perhaps those glutamate-gated Cl channels (GUCl) play a, yet unidentified, role in autism.

Or, perhaps we got it right and PAK inhibiting property is what matters. 

Perhaps being an PAK1 inhibitor will also make it a Wnt inhibitor, or maybe not, worth checking though?

Perhaps the MIT guys got it wrong and it is Wnt rather than PAK that we should be focused on? 

I hope the blog reader that prompted this post does indeed give the bee propolis a go and see if it has the same effect as Ivermectin.


Having said in an earlier post that I will not try and out-smart the cancer researchers, I will just say that the extremely cheap drug Ivermectin does seem to have some potent anti-cancer properties.  

I know that cancer drugs are supposed to be hugely expensive.

An earlier post mentioned Ivermectin’s positive effect on Leukemia, but it seems that the WNT-TCF Pathway is involved in very many cancers.  This is not to mention that just being a PAK1 inhibitor should be enough to prompt further interest.


Well it looks like Dr Wu and Dr Klinghardt have indeed got the therapy right, but I believe for entirely the wrong reasons. By promoting themselves via organisations like Autism One, they are almost guaranteed to be ignored by mainstream doctors and researchers. The therapy will therefore remain on the fringe, with the quacks and cranks.

From my perspective, what really matters is whether a therapy works.  We can always later on figure out why it works.  So thank you Dr Wu and Dr Klinghardt.


  1. Very interesting as always.
    And food for some thought regarding developping x developped countries, as de-worming is so common where sanitation is less present.


    1. If reliable data existed, you could compare autism incidence with use of Ivermectin. Perhaps it would indeed show that use of this drug results in less autism.


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