Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Back to School and Try to be Cool

The Milaneses and their shops
Another school year has begun, which is always a good time for Monty, with ASD now aged 15. He loves his small international school; he has been there since was 3 years old. School is fun because he gets lots of attention and stimulation. Other children are surprisingly nice to him and the teachers get to meet someone with autism.

In kindergarten and the early years of primary/junior school boys with autism often get taken care of by some of the nicer girls. It is like having a live human doll to mother. It is amazing how this pattern repeats among different children with autism. This gradually seems to fade away as girls discover that they need to be cool and kids with special needs tend not to be cool.

We had a visit over the summer from a Dutch girl who was one of these nice little girls when she was younger. Now she is also 15 and has not seen Monty for a few years. The difference between them now is much starker than 10 years ago, but there still is a bond.
Last year at school for friendship development day they had to climb a small mountain, this year they went bowling. The girls in the year above wanted to teach Monty how to bowl and they did. The year above is unusual in being mainly girls.
I know that most children with autism/Asperger's cope with junior school but many, particularly Aspies, really hate high school, because they do not fit in and so they get bullied. Monty has never experienced any such problems, but he is not an Aspie, so he is not a target.  People who are a tiny bit different get bullied, people who are more different tend not to get picked on.
Big brother has graduated from high school and gone to University in Milan, Italy, far away. In his time at school the class were not so nice to the Aspie boy they had in their group and he was not nice to them. I think it was a lost opportunity; ultimately it is up to parents to make things happen.  Parents often blame schools, but most schools have no expert knowledge and have many other issues to deal with. Much more could be done to integrate those who are just a tiny bit different.
I think that to fit in, the special needs pupil needs to be “cool” and have an assistant who is seen by the class as “cool”. What counts as cool? How you dress, sport you do, musical skills etc. For the assistant it includes how old you behave; having an Assistant who behaves like a 50-year-old, is not going to help integrate a teenager.
Most kids figure out what is cool, but if you have any degree of autism you may not. I think some people would indeed benefit from “cool lessons”, you could call it “how to be a teenager”. There are workshops for Aspie teenagers, a little bit like this. 
In our household this new school year is much more about big brother. We have lots of video calls about Italian bureaucracy, how to cook, how expensive going out is, but how cheap Italian coffee is (no Starbucks).  Overall Milan is beautiful city, full of very fashion-conscious people who do seem to enjoy life.  The Italian students in class can be identified by their expensive sunglasses and their going for “aperitivo”.  The foreign boys are going for birra, bier, pivo, bira or cerveza, which is cheap in a supermarket but very expensive elsewhere. 
Bocconi is Italy’s top University for economics; it seems pretty well organized and is very inclusive. They have many students from poorer countries, who get substantial financial support from the University, which is the opposite of what happens in England (where foreign students face paying up to 3 times more for tuition). Germany is also good in this regard, where even Medical School is free to all, but you do need to learn German. Big brother is getting to practise his foreign languages, but tuition is in English.


Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Ketones and Autism Part 5 - BHB, Histone Acetylation Modification, BDNF Expression, PKA, PKB/Akt, Microglial Ramification, Depression and Kabuki Syndrome

Child displaying elongated eyelids typical of Kabuki syndrome
Source: Given by Parents of children pictured with purpose of representing children with kabuki on Wikipedia. 

The syndrome is named after its resemblance to Japanese Kabuki makeup.

As we have discovered in this blog, autism is just a condition where certain genes are over-expressed and other genes are under-expressed. Put like that makes it sound quite simple.

Methylation of histones can either increase or decrease transcription of genes. The subject is highly complex, but we can keep things simple.

The child in the photo above has Kabuki syndrome and is likely to exhibit features of autism.  In most cases this is the result of a lack of expression of the KMT2D/MLL2 gene which encodes a protein called Histone-lysine N-methyltransferase.  Unfortunately, this is quite an important protein, because it promotes the “opening of chromatin”.  It adds a “trimethylation mark to H3K4”, just think of it as a pink post-it on your DNA. 
We get H3K4me3, which is an epigenetic marker (me3, because it is trimethylation). H3K4me3 promotes gene activation and it can cause a relative imbalance between open and closed chromatin states for critical genes. It has been suggested that it may be possible to restore this balance with drugs that promote open chromatin states, such as histone deacetylase inhibitors (HDACi).
What all this means is that people with Kabuki start with under-expression of just one gene, but this leads to the miss-expression of numerous other genes. Because science has figured out what the KMT2D/MLL2 gene does, we can find ways of treating this syndrome.

BHB as an HDAC inhibitor and a treatment for Kabuki syndrome

HDAC inhibitors (HDACi) are also suggested as therapies for other single gene syndromes. We saw in an earlier post that in Pitt Hopkins syndrome people lack Transcription Factor 4 (TCF4). Too little TC4 is not good, but too much TC4 is one feature of schizophrenia.
We saw in the research that we can increase expression of TCF4 using a class 1 HDAC inhibitor and we can also activate the Wnt pathway, which can also be achieved by inhibiting GSK3 (all themes covered in this blog).
So, Pitt Hopkins therapies include: -
·        Wnt activation (covered extensively in this blog) this includes statins and GSK3 inhibitors like Lithium

·        HDAC inhibitors like valproic acid, some cancer drugs, sodium butyrate and indeed the ketone BHB
This also means that people with schizophrenia, and likely too much TCF4, might benefit from the opposite gene expression modification, so a Wnt inhibitor, these include some cheap, safe, drugs used to treat children with parasites (Mebendazole/ Niclosamide etc) and of course GSK3 activators.
It is interesting that after 500 posts of this amateur blog you can start to fit the science together and identify rational therapies for complex disorders and  note that these therapies have much wider application, either to milder conditions or discovering avenues to treat the opposite genetic variation.  The underlying biological themes are all reoccurring in different types of autism/schizophrenia/ bipolar and you do wonder why more has not been done by professionals to apply this knowledge. 500 posts may sound a lot, but for autism researchers this is their paid, full-time job, not just a hobby pastime.

But then again, Simon Baron-Cohen, Head of Cambridge University's Autism Research Centre, recently published an article in which he wrote:

"We at the Autism Research Centre have no desire to cure, prevent or eradicate autism ... As scientists, our agenda is simply to understand the causes of autism." 

Whose team is he playing for?

My conclusion is that perhaps Baron-Cohen has Asperger's himself, because he does not realize that a disorder, severe enough for a medical/psychiatric diagnosis, is a bad thing that should be minimized and ideally prevented, just like any other brain disorder. His cousin the actor Sacha gives a very good impression of someone with bipolar, so perhaps they both need a Wnt activator?

Would a mother with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) want her daughter to also develop MS to share the experience? I think not. If it is just "quirky autism", it does not warrant a medical diagnosis, because it is perfectly okay to be quirky. 

This blog does have many Aspie readers who do want pharmacological therapy and that is their choice; I am fully supportive of them and wish them well.

Back to Kabuki
There is more than one type of HDAC and so there are different types of HDACi.  There are actually 18 HDAC enzymes divided into four classes
The ketone BHB inhibits HDAC class I enzymes called HDAC2 and HDAC3
The good news is that the ketogenic diet, which produces BHB, does indeed show merit as a therapy for Kabuki.

Kabuki syndrome is caused by haploinsufficiency for either of two genes that promote the opening of chromatin. If an imbalance between open and closed chromatin is central to the pathogenesis of Kabuki syndrome, agents that promote chromatin opening might have therapeutic potential. We have characterized a mouse model of Kabuki syndrome with a heterozygous deletion in the gene encoding the lysine-specific methyltransferase 2D (Kmt2d), leading to impairment of methyltransferase function. In vitro reporter alleles demonstrated a reduction in histone 4 acetylation and histone 3 lysine 4 trimethylation (H3K4me3) activity in mouse embryonic fibroblasts from Kmt2d+/βGeo mice. These activities were normalized in response to AR-42, a histone deacetylase inhibitor. In vivo, deficiency of H3K4me3 in the dentate gyrus granule cell layer of Kmt2d+/βGeo mice correlated with reduced neurogenesis and hippocampal memory defects. These abnormalities improved upon postnatal treatment with AR-42. Our work suggests that a reversible deficiency in postnatal neurogenesis underlies intellectual disability in Kabuki syndrome.

Intellectual disability is a common clinical entity with few therapeutic options. Kabuki syndrome is a genetically determined cause of intellectual disability resulting from mutations in either of two components of the histone machinery, both of which play a role in chromatin opening. Previously, in a mouse model, we showed that agents that favor chromatin opening, such as the histone deacetylase inhibitors (HDACis), can rescue aspects of the phenotype. Here we demonstrate rescue of hippocampal memory defects and deficiency of adult neurogenesis in a mouse model of Kabuki syndrome by imposing a ketogenic diet, a strategy that raises the level of the ketone beta-hydroxybutyrate, an endogenous HDACi. This work suggests that dietary manipulation may be a feasible treatment for Kabuki syndrome.
 Although BHB has previously been shown to have HDACi activity (7, 21), the potential for therapeutic application remains speculative. Here, we show that therapeutically relevant levels of BHB are achieved with a KD modeled on protocols that are used and sustainable in humans (22, 23). In addition, we demonstrate a therapeutic rescue of disease markers in a genetic disorder by taking advantage of the BHB elevation that accompanies the KD.
Our findings that exogenous BHB treatment lead to similar effects on neurogenesis as the KD support the hypothesis that BHB contributes significantly to the therapeutic effect. In our previous study (6), the HDACi AR-42 led to improved performance in the probe trial of the MWM for both Kmt2d+/βGeo and Kmt2d+/+ mice (genotype-independent improvement). In contrast, KD treatment only led to improvement in Kmt2d+/βGeo mice (genotype-dependent improvement). This discrepancy may relate to the fact that AR-42 acts as an HDACi but also affects the expression of histone demethylases (24), resulting in increased potency but less specificity. Alternatively, because the levels of BHB appear to be higher in Kmt2d+/βGeo mice on the KD, the physiological levels of BHB might be unable to reach levels in Kmt2d+/+ mice high enough to make drastic changes on chromatin.
In addition to the effects seen on hippocampal function and morphology, we also uncovered a metabolic phenotype in Kmt2d+/βGeo mice, which leads to both increased BHB/AcAc and lactate/pyruvate ratios during ketosis; an increased NADH/NAD+ ratio could explain both observations. This increased NADH/NAD+ ratio may relate to a previously described propensity of Kmt2d+/βGeo mice toward biochemical processes predicted to produce NADH, including beta-oxidation, and a resistance to high-fat-diet–induced obesity (27). If this exaggerated BHB elevation holds true in patients with KS, the KD may be a particularly effective treatment strategy for this patient population; however, this remains to be demonstrated. Alterations of the NADH/NAD+ ratio could also affect chromatin structure through the action of sirtuins, a class of HDACs that are known to be NAD+ dependent (28). Advocates of individualized medicine have predicted therapeutic benefit of targeted dietary interventions, although currently there are few robust examples (2931). This work serves as a proof-of-principle that dietary manipulation may be a feasible strategy for KS and suggests a possible mechanism of action of the previously observed therapeutic benefits of the KD for intractable seizure disorder (22, 23).                   
Kabuki syndrome (KS) (Kabuki make-up syndrome, Niikawa-Kuroki syndrome) is a rare genetic disorder first diagnosed in 1981. Kabuki make-up syndrome (KMS) is a multiple malformation/intellectual disability syndrome that was first described in Japan but is now reported in many other ethnic groups. KMS is characterized by multiple congenital abnormalities: craniofacial, skeletal, and dermatoglyphic abnormalities; intellectual disability; and short stature. Other findings may include: congenital heart defects, genitourinary anomalies, cleft lip and/or palate, gastrointestinal anomalies including anal atresia, ptosis and strabismus, and widely spaced teeth and hypodontia. The KS is associated with mutations in the MLL2 gene in some cases were also observed deletions of KDM6A. This study describes three children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) and KS and rehabilitative intervention that must be implemented.

So what?
Unless you know someone with Kabuki syndrome, you might be wondering what does this matter to autism.
What is shows is that BHB/KD is sufficiently potent to be a viable HDAC inhibitor. 
We know that some cancer drug HDAC inhibitors are effective in some mouse models of autism. But these drugs usually have side effects. 

HDAC Inhibitors for which Cancer/Autism? 

BHB is safe endogenous substance, so it is a “natural” HDACi. 

The effect of HDAC2 and HDAC3 on BDNF 
Brain derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) is like brain fertilizer. In some types of autism, you would like more BDNF.
When you exercise you produce BHB and that goes on to trigger the release of BDNF. This process also involves NF-kB activation

Exercise induces beneficial responses in the brain, which is accompanied by an increase in BDNF, a trophic factor associated with cognitive improvement and the alleviation of depression and anxiety. However, the exact mechanisms whereby physical exercise produces an induction in brain Bdnf gene expression are not well understood. While pharmacological doses of HDAC inhibitors exert positive effects on Bdnf gene transcription, the inhibitors represent small molecules that do not occur in vivo. Here, we report that an endogenous molecule released after exercise is capable of inducing key promoters of the Mus musculus Bdnf gene. The metabolite β-hydroxybutyrate, which increases after prolonged exercise, induces the activities of Bdnf promoters, particularly promoter I, which is activity-dependent. We have discovered that the action of β-hydroxybutyrate is specifically upon HDAC2 and HDAC3, which act upon selective Bdnf promoters. Moreover, the effects upon hippocampal Bdnf expression were observed after direct ventricular application of β-hydroxybutyrate. Electrophysiological measurements indicate that β-hydroxybutyrate causes an increase in neurotransmitter release, which is dependent upon the TrkB receptor. These results reveal an endogenous mechanism to explain how physical exercise leads to the induction of BDNF.

Results: ROS was significantly increased in neurons after 6 hours of ketone incubation. However, after 24 hours, neurons show improved efficiency in ATP productions, upregulated expressions of antioxidant enzyme SOD2, and enhanced resistance to excitotoxicity. These effects were significantly abolished in neurons after treatment with TrkB inhibitor. More interestingly, ROS scavengers or blocking ROS-dependent NF-kB activation significantly decreased ketone-dependent BDNF-upregulation in neurons, suggesting that ROS may have increased BDNF expressions to improve mitochondrial respiration as adaptive responses.
Conclusions: 3OHB initially generates ROS and poses oxidative stress. However, ROS appears to trigger adaptive responses against oxidative stress by upregulating BDNF through NF-kB activation, which can improve mitochondrial oxidative capacity and ultimately enhance neuroprotection
BHB/KD promotes PKA/CREB activation 
Another clever way to change the function/expression of multiple genes in one single step is to use a protein kinase.  Up to 30% of all human proteins may be modified by kinase activity.  
A protein kinase is an enzyme that modifies other proteins by chemically adding phosphate groups to them (phosphorylation). Phosphorylation usually results in a functional change of the target protein.
In the autism research you may well have come across PKA, PKB (Akt) and PKC. They clearly are disturbed in much autism.
The research shows that BHB activates PKA.
If you want good myelination you need PKA.
This might be another reason why BHB/KD is helpful in people with Multiple Sclerosis.
In much autism the myelin coating is found to be abnormally thin. 

BHB, Microglial Ramification and Depression (yes, depression)
I am increasingly impressed by research from China. The paper below by Chao Huang et al is excellent and I think we need a Chinese on the Dean’s List of this blog, it looks like he is the first.
Nantong, China on the Yangtze River and home to Chao Huang and more than 7 million other people 
Source: Wikipedia Dolly 442

The ketone body metabolite β-hydroxybutyrate induces an antidepression-associated ramification of microglia via HDACs inhibition-triggered Akt-small RhoGTPase activation. 


Direct induction of macrophage ramification has been shown to promote an alternative (M2) polarization, suggesting that the ramified morphology may determine the function of immune cells. The ketone body metabolite β-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) elevated in conditions including fasting and low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet (KD) can reduce neuroinflammation. However, how exactly BHB impacts microglia remains unclear. We report that BHB as well as its producing stimuli fasting and KD induced obvious ramifications of murine microglia in basal and inflammatory conditions in a reversible manner, and these ramifications were accompanied with microglial profile toward M2 polarization and phagocytosis. The protein kinase B (Akt)-small RhoGTPase axis was found to mediate the effect of BHB on microglial shape change, as (i) BHB activated the microglial small RhoGTPase (Rac1, Cdc42) and Akt; (ii) Akt and Rac1-Cdc42 inhibition abolished the pro-ramification effect of BHB; (iii) Akt inhibition prevented the activation of Rac1-Cdc42 induced by BHB treatment. Incubation of microglia with other classical histone deacetylases (HDACs) inhibitors, but not G protein-coupled receptor 109a (GPR109a) activators, also induced microglial ramification and Akt activation, suggesting that the BHB-induced ramification of microglia may be triggered by HDACs inhibition. Functionally, Akt inhibition was found to abrogate the effects of BHB on microglial polarization and phagocytosis. In neuroinflammatory models induced by lipopolysaccharide (LPS) or chronic unpredictable stress (CUS), BHB prevented the microglial process retraction and depressive-like behaviors, and these effects were abolished by Akt inhibition. Our findings for the first time showed that BHB exerts anti-inflammatory actions via promotion of microglial ramification. 

NOTE:  Ramified Microglia = Resting Microglia

The brain microglia play important roles in sensing even subtle variations of their milieu. Upon moderate activation, they control brain activity via phagocytosis of cell debris and production of pro-inflammatory mediators and reactive oxygen species. However, a persistent activation would make the microglia transfer into a status with an amoeboid morphology tightly associated with neuronal damage and pro-inflammatory cytokine overproduction.

Unlike the activated microglia, the un-stimulated microglia are in a ramified status with extensively branched processes, an contribute to brain homeostasis via regulation of synaptic remodeling and neurotransmission. The ramified microglia has been shown to be associated with the induction of M2 polarization. A study by McWhorter et al. showed that elongation of macrophage by control of cell shape directly increases the expression of M2 markers and reduces the secretion of proinflammatory cytokines, suggesting that induction of microglial ramification may be a mechanism for regulation of microglial function. Methods that trigger microglial ramification may help treat brain disorders associated with neuroinflammation.
In this study, we found that BHB induces a functional ramification of murine microglia in both basal and inflammatory conditions in vitro and in vivo. The pro-ramification effects of BHB are associated with the change in microglial polarization and phagocytosis as well as the antidepressant-like effects of BHB in LPS- or chronic unpredictable stress (CUS)-stimulated mice. The ramified morphology in microglia is also induced by two BHB-producing stimuli fasting and KD, as well as two other HDACs inhibitors valproic acid (VPA) and trichostatin A (TSA). Given that microglial overactivation can mediate the pathogenesis of depression, induction of microglial ramification by BHB may have therapeutic significance in depression. 

These data confirm that BHB has an ability to transform the activated microglia back to their ramified and resting status in inflammatory conditions.

Recall the recent post about BHB and the Niacin Receptor HCA2/GPR109A in Autism:

The Chinese paper continues:

It is HDACs inhibition but not GPR109A activation that mediates the pro-ramification effect of BHB in microglia Akt inhibition abrogates the effects of BHB on microglial ramification, polarization, and phagocytosis
Akt inhibition prevents the antidepressant-like effects of BHB in acute and chronic depression models

Note that Akt is another name for Protein Kinase B (PKB)

One of the major findings in the present study is that the ketone body metabolite BHB as well as its producing stimuli fasting and KD induced reversible ramifications of murine microglia in vitro and in vivo, and these ramifications were not altered by pro-inflammatory stimuli. The ramified morphology induced by BHB seems to be a signal upstream of microglial polarization, and may mediate the antidepressant-like effect of BHB in depression induced by neuroinflammatory stimuli. Since the regulating effect of BHB in disorders associated with neuroinflammation has been well-documented, our findings provide a novel mechanism for the explanation of the neuroprotective effect of BHB in neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric disorders from the aspect of the feedback regulation of microglial function by microglial ramification.
Induction of microglial ramification, a strategy neglected by most scientists for a long time, may have more important therapeutic significance than that of regulation of microglial polarization alone at the molecular level.

In experiments in vivo, we showed that BHB ameliorated the depressive-like behaviors induced by two neuroinflammatory stimuli LPS and CUS. These results are in accordance with previous reports, which showed that the BHB-producing stimuli, caloric restriction and fasting, produce potential antidepressant-like activities in both animals and humans. Thus, together with the pro-ramification effect of BHB in microglia in vitro, we speculate that the microglial shape change may be an independent signal that determines microglial function.

Our further analysis showed that the BHB-induced microglial ramification was mediated by the Rac1-Cdc42 signal, as BHB markedly increased the activity of Rac1 and Cdc42, and Rac1/Cdc42 inhibition attenuated the pro-ramification effect of BHB. The PI3K-Akt signal has been shown to mediate the activation of Rac1/Cdc42, and once accepting the signal from Akt, the Rac1-Cdc42 will be mobilized to promote lamellipodia/filopodia formation and cell shape change (Huang et al., 2016a). We showed that the BHB-induced microglial ramification was mediated by the Akt signal, as Akt inhibition suppressed the induction of microglial ramification by BHB. As a functional evidence for the involvement of Akt in the pro-ramification effect of BHB, Akt inhibition was found to block the functional changes in BHB-treated microglia in vitro and in vivo, including blockage of the anti-inflammatory and prophagocytic activity of BHB and abrogation of the antidepressant-like effects of BHB. Since the ramified morphology determines the anti-inflammatory phenotype in macrophages (McWhorter et al., 2013), our data suggest that there may exist a causal relationship between the ramified morphology and microglial function after BHB treatment, and this relationship may evidence the clinical significance of our findings, as the microglial process retraction has been shown to mediate the development of neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric disorders.

Furthermore, considering the serum level of BHB in humans begin to rise to 6 to 8 mM with prolonged fasting (Cahill, 2006), investigation of whether the pro-ramification effect of BHB exists in human individuals should be of great value for the application of BHB in disease therapy. 

 Exposure to hypobaric hypoxia causes neuron cell damage, resulting in impaired cognitive function. Effective interventions to antagonize hypobaric hypoxia-induced memory impairment are in urgent need. Ketogenic diet (KD) has been successfully used to treat drug-resistant epilepsy and improves cognitive behaviors in epilepsy patients and other pathophysiological animal models. In the present study, we aimed to explore the potential beneficial effects of a KD on memory impairment caused by hypobaric hypoxia and the underlying possible mechanisms. We showed that the KD recipe used was ketogenic and increased plasma levels of ketone bodies, especially β-hydroxybutyrate. The results of the behavior tests showed that the KD did not affect general locomotor activity but obviously promoted spatial learning. Moreover, the KD significantly improved the spatial memory impairment caused by hypobaric hypoxia (simulated altitude of 6000 m, 24 h). In addition, the improving-effect of KD was mimicked by intraperitoneal injection of BHB. The western blot and immunohistochemistry results showed that KD treatment not only increased the acetylated levels of histone H3 and histone H4 compared to that of the control group but also antagonized the decrease in the acetylated histone H3 and H4 when exposed to hypobaric hypoxia. Furthermore, KD-hypoxia treatment also promoted PKA/CREB activation and BDNF protein expression compared to the effects of hypoxia alone. These results demonstrated that KD is a promising strategy to improve spatial memory impairment caused by hypobaric hypoxia, in which increased modification of histone acetylation plays an important role

Exogenous BHB prevents spatial memory impairment induced by hypobaric hypoxia

To further verify whether ketone body, a product of KD, has direct improving effect, we chose the most stable physiologic ketone body, BHB, for the subsequent experiment. In order to mimic the effect of KD as above described, the rats were pre-treated with BHB (at a dose of 200mg/kg/day) for 2 weeks and then submitted to Morris water maze test. Since intraperitoneal injection would allow substances to be absorbed at a slower rate and intraperitoneal injection would produce marginal effect during behavioral tests [16], we used the intraperitoneal injection of BHB, which has been applied in published reports [17, 18]. Although the rats in the control and BHB groups learned to find the platform with the same pattern during 5 days of acquisition training (Fig 4B), BHB could significantly improve the memory impairment induced by hypobaric hypoxia, represented by more crossing number, more time in the target quadrant, and decreased latency to first entry to platform compared to hypobaric hypoxia treatment alone (Fig 4C–4F). These results demonstrated that BHB has a direct memory-improving effect and served as the main executor of KD beneficial effects.

KD increases histone acetylation modification in the hippocampus

A previous study found that BHB is an endogenous HDAC inhibitor, and the KD recipe in our study substantially increased plasma levels of BHB. Then, we detected the effect of KD on histone acetylation in the hippocampus, which is responsible for learning and memory. As shown in Fig 5, the acetylated histone H3 (K9/K14), acetylated histone H3 (K14), and acetylated histone H4 (K12), were all increased in the hippocampus of the KD rats. Although the histone acetylation modifications listed above are decreased in hypoxia-treated rats, KD treatment could reverse the decreased levels of histone acetylation. The same pattern was displayed in the immunohistochemical staining, in which the hypoxia-induced decrease in acetylated histone H3 and acetylated histone H4 in the CA1 region of the hippocampus was reversed by KD treatment  

KD activates PKA/CREB signaling in the hippocampus

To explore a possible underlying mechanism of the beneficial effect of KD treatment on cognition, the activity of the PKA/CREB pathway in the four groups was also evaluated by western blot (Fig 7A). KD treatment was shown to not only increase the levels of PKA substrates and p-CREB (KD vs STD) but also reverse the decline in PKA substrates, p-CREB and CREB (KD-Hy vs STD-Hy). Although KD pre-treatment produced a partial restoration of PKA activity, p-CREB is nearly completely restore to its basic levels, which is may be account for its other upstream kinases, like calmodulin-dependent kinases [19]. Interestingly, the hypoxia-induced down-regulation of BDNF, a well-known neurotrophic factor involved in learning and memory formation processes, was also up-reregulated by KD treatment. These results demonstrated that KD treatment promoted PKA/CREB activation and BDNF protein expression. In order to detect whether KD promoted BDNF expression at mRNA levels, qRT-PCR assays were performed using BDNF specific primers. We found that KD-pretreatment significantly increased mRNA levels compared with that in hypobaric hypoxia group (Fig 7B). Next, we used ChIP-PCR to test if there might be increased enrichment of acetylated histones on the promoter of BDNF gene. We focused on the promoter I of BDNF gene, which response to neuronal activity [20). ]. The results showed that there is increased binding of acetylated histone H3 to the promoter I of BDNF gene (Fig 7C   

Concentrations of acetyl–coenzyme A and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+) affect histone acetylation and thereby couple cellular metabolic status and transcriptional regulation. We report that the ketone body d-β-hydroxybutyrate (βOHB) is an endogenous and specific inhibitor of class I histone deacetylases (HDACs). Administration of exogenous βOHB, or fasting or calorie restriction, two conditions associated with increased βOHB abundance, all increased global histone acetylation in mouse tissues. Inhibition of HDAC by βOHB was correlated with global changes in transcription, including that of the genes encoding oxidative stress resistance factors FOXO3A and MT2. Treatment of cells with βOHB increased histone acetylation at the Foxo3a and Mt2 promoters, and both genes were activated by selective depletion of HDAC1 and HDAC2. Consistent with increased FOXO3A and MT2 activity, treatment of mice with βOHB conferred substantial protection against oxidative stress. 
Abnormalities in mitochondrial function and epigenetic regulation are thought to be instrumental in Huntington's disease (HD), a fatal genetic disorder caused by an expanded polyglutamine track in the protein huntingtin. Given the lack of effective therapies for HD, we sought to assess the neuroprotective properties of the mitochondrial energizing ketone body, D-β-hydroxybutyrate (DβHB), in the 3-nitropropionic acid (3-NP) toxic and the R6/2 genetic model of HD. In mice treated with 3-NP, a complex II inhibitor, infusion of DβHB attenuates motor deficits, striatal lesions, and microgliosis in this model of toxin induced-striatal neurodegeneration. In transgenic R6/2 mice, infusion of DβHB extends life span, attenuates motor deficits, and prevents striatal histone deacetylation. In PC12 cells with inducible expression of mutant huntingtin protein, we further demonstrate that DβHB prevents histone deacetylation via a mechanism independent of its mitochondrial effects and independent of histone deacetylase inhibition. These pre-clinical findings suggest that by simultaneously targeting the mitochondrial and the epigenetic abnormalities associated with mutant huntingtin, DβHB may be a valuable therapeutic agent for HD.  

At the end of this fifth post on ketones and autism, I think we have established beyond any doubt that ketones can do some amazing things for numerous dysfunctions and diseases.
The question remains how much you need to achieve the various possible benefits. 
The next question, already put to me by one parent, is how do you measure such a benefit.  Some people’s idea of treating autism is just to eradicate disturbing behaviours like SIB and ensure a placid, cooperative child when out in public.  Other people notice small cognitive and speech changes, because they spend hours a day teaching their child. Small but significant cognitive improvement may not show up on autism rating scales.
You would expect a dose dependent response, so the more ketones the bigger the response, which suggests that the full Ketogenic Diet (KD) is the ultimate option.
A lot does seem to be possible just with BHB and C8 (caprylic acid) as supplements to a regular diet.
Adults with Alzheimer’s, or Huntington’s, or Multiple Sclerosis (MS) all stand to potentially benefit from ketone supplements.
Children/adults with certain single-gene autisms, not limited to Kabuki and Pitt Hopkins potentially should benefit from ketone supplements.
Interestingly, another benefit of BHB is on mood; it seems to make some people just feel much better, apparently all due to the effect on microglia. So perhaps autism parents who take antidepressants should try BHB instead.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Ginseng, as a GABAb Antagonist, as an "Add-on Therapy" for some Autism? Also Homotaurine and Acamprosate

Rather like negotiating with North Korea, today’s post does rather meander. It does in the end up with some interesting options for some people. 

Korea - the centre of Ginseng research
This post was prompted by research highlighted by our reader Ling, which suggested that bumetanide responders (i.e. people with high intracellular chloride) might benefit from a GABAB antagonist. 
There has been quite a lot of coverage in this blog about agonists of GABAB receptors, like Baclofen and Arbaclofen. Some people with an autism diagnosis do indeed seem to benefit, ranging from some with Fragile-X to others with Asperger’s. Russian-developed GABAB agonists like Phenibut and Pantogam are widely used by adults self-treating their behavioural/emotional disturbances.
Some Aspies have commented in this blog that far from helping, Baclofen made them feel worse; perhaps the opposite therapy might help? (the Goldilocks scenario, from the previous post) 
The paper below shows how a GABAB antagonist (the opposite of Baclofen) might benefit some with autism.

GABAB receptors are G-protein-coupled receptors that mediate inhibitory synaptic actions through a series of downstream target proteins. It is increasingly appreciated that the GABAB receptor forms part of larger signaling complexes, which enable the receptor to mediate multiple different effects within neurons. Here we report that GABAB receptors can physically associate with the potassium-chloride cotransporter protein, KCC2, which sets the driving force for the chloride-permeable ionotropic GABAA receptor in mature neurons. Using biochemical, molecular, and functional studies in rodent hippocampus, we show that activation of GABAB receptors results in a decrease in KCC2 function, which is associated with a reduction in the protein at the cell surface. These findings reveal a novel "crosstalk" between the GABA receptor systems, which can be recruited under conditions of high GABA release and which could be important for the regulation of inhibitory synaptic transmission.

SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Synaptic inhibition in the brain is mediated by ionotropic GABAA receptors (GABAARs) and metabotropic GABAB receptors (GABABRs). To fully appreciate the function and regulation of these neurotransmitter receptors, we must understand their interactions with other proteins. We describe a novel association between the GABABR and the potassium-chloride cotransporter protein, KCC2. This association is significant because KCC2 sets the intracellular chloride concentration found in mature neurons and thereby establishes the driving force for the chloride-permeable GABAAR. We demonstrate that GABABR activation can regulate KCC2 at the cell surface in a manner that alters intracellular chloride and the reversal potential for the GABAAR. Our data therefore support an additional mechanism by which GABABRs are able to modulate fast synaptic inhibition.

In bumetanide-responsive autism, neurons remain immature because the “GABA switch“ never flipped and so NKCC1 is overexpressed and KCC2 is underexpressed, chloride levels remain high and the neurotransmitter GABA works backwards (excitatory, rather than inhibitory).
Bumetanide partially counters the over-abundance of NKCC1 transporters that carry chloride into neurons, but is a partial solution.
The above research suggests that blocking GABAB receptors might increase the flow of chloride ions exiting through KCC2.
All very complicated sounding, but in effect it means that a GABAB antagonist might boost the effect of bumetanide.

Which GABAB antagonist?
This was Ling’s question.
Saclofen is a competitive antagonist for the GABAB receptor. This drug is an analogue of the GABAB agonist baclofen.
Phaclofen/phosphonobaclofen, is a selective antagonist for the GABAB receptor.
Since these “–aclofens” are not accessible we are left with a choice of homotaurine (developed to treat Alzheimer’s) or Ginsenosides from Korean/Panax ginseng.
Both homotaurine and Ginsenosides have various other effects beyond GABAB.
Since Ling is in Scandinavia, homotaurine is an option. It seems to be banned in the US, though it is approved in Canada and sold in Europe.
Ginseng is very widely used, indeed it is the most widely consumed herbal nutritional product in the world, with sales of $400 million in 2012.
I was surprised that there actually is research in both humans and animal models using Ginseng in autism and indeed ADHD.
N-Acetyl homotaurine,  a derivative of homotaurine, is a registered drug called Acamprostate. It is used to treat alcohol dependence. It affects both NMDA and GABA receptors. Acamprostate has been shown to benefit Fragile-X, as has bumetanide. A drug that affects GABAB will inevitably also affect NMDA receptors.
This was covered in this post from 2015.

which highlighted this paper:

Homotaurine has been reported as a GABA antagonist as well as a GABA agonist. In vitro studies have found that homotaurine is a GABAA partial agonist as well as a GABAB receptor partial agonist with low efficacy, becoming an antagonist and a displacing full agonist of GABA or baclofen at this receptor.[15] In a study in rats, homotaurine reversed the catatonia induced by baclofen (the prototypical GABAB agonist),[16] and was able to produce analgesia via the GABAB receptor, an effect that was abolished when CGP 35348, a GABAB receptor antagonist was applied.[17][18] 
One study suggests Homotaurine increases dopamine levels.[19]

One study in rats showed that homotaurine suppressed ethanol-stimulated dopamine release, as well as ethanol intake and preference in rats in a way similar to the N-acetyl derivative of homotaurine, acamprosate.[20] Acamprosate was approved by the FDA in 2004 to treat alcohol dependence.[3]

Fragile X syndrome (FXS) is an inherited form of developmental disability and a single gene cause of autism. As a disorder with increasingly understood pathophysiology, FXS is a model form of developmental disability for targeted drug development efforts. Preclinical animal model findings have focused targeted drug treatment development in FXS on an imbalance between excessive glutamate and deficient gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) neurotransmission.
Acamprosate was generally safe and well tolerated and was associated with a significant improvement in social behavior and a reduction in inattention/hyperactivity. The increase in BDNF that occurred with treatment may be a useful pharmacodynamic marker in future acamprosate studies. Given these findings, a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of acamprosate in youth with FXS is warranted.

Back to Ginseng
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is heterogeneous neurodevelopmental disorders that primarily display social and communication impairments and restricted/repetitive behaviors. ASD prevalence has increased in recent years, yet very limited therapeutic targets and treatments are available to counteract the incapacitating disorder. Korean Red Ginseng (KRG) is a popular herbal plant in South Korea known for its wide range of therapeutic effects and nutritional benefits and has recently been gaining great scientific attention, particularly for its positive effects in the central nervous system.


Thus, in this study, we investigated the therapeutic potential of KRG in alleviating the neurobehavioral deficits found in the valproic acid (VPA)-exposed mice models of ASD.


Starting at 21 days old, VPA-exposed mice were given daily oral administrations of KRG solution (100 or 200 mg/kg) until the termination of all experiments. From P28, mice behaviors were assessed in terms of social interaction capacity, locomotor activity, repetitive behaviors, short-term spatial working memory, motor coordination, and seizure susceptibility.


VPA-exposed mice showed sociability and social novelty preference deficits, hyperactivity, increased repetitive behavior, impaired spatial working memory, slightly affected motor coordination, and high seizure susceptibility. Remarkably, long-term KRG treatment in both dosages normalized all the ASD-related behaviors in VPA-exposed mice, except motor coordination ability.


As a food and herbal supplement with various known benefits, KRG demonstrated its therapeutic potential in rescuing abnormal behaviors related to autism caused by prenatal environmental exposure to VPA.

In the trial below the dose appears very low at 250mg. In the more encouraging study in ADHD the dose was 1000mg twice a day.

Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder, with impairments in reciprocal social interaction and verbal and nonverbal communication. There is often the need of psychopharmacological intervention in addition to psychobehavioral therapies, but benefits are limited by adverse side effects. For that reason, Panax ginseng, which is comparable with Piracetam, a substance effective in the treatment of autism, was investigated for possible improvement of autistic symptoms. There was some improvement, which suggests some benefits of Panax ginseng, at least as an add-on therapy.
Three male outpatients (age range 18.4–22.2 years; mean=21.3 years; SD =4.1 years) meeting ICD-10 criteria for autistic disorder participated in our observation. IQs ranged from 54 to 82 (68 +/− 14), which were obtained from the Wechsler Intelligence Scale. At least two child and adolescent psychiatrists independently diagnosed the subjects for autistic disorder. All subjects had no additional medical or neurological illnesses. They had been treated with either methylphenidate, or neuroleptics before entry into the study, without any positive effect (nonresponder). One patient’s language consisted of monosyllabic utterances, second patient’s language consisted of single words(10-word vocabulary),and the third patient spoke in sentences. Parents and mentors’ (i.e., the person who takes care of the patient in daily life, and supports the patient’s educational efforts) rated instruments included weekly ratings by means of the Aberrant Behavior and Symptom Checklist. Clinician ratings consisted of the Global Assessment Scale, Psychiatric Rating Scale (CPRS), and Clinical Global Improvement. Panax ginseng (oral administration of tablets containing 250-mg alcoholic Panax ginseng berry extract, pure encapsulations) was administered for 4 weeks (dosage: 250 mg daily). Patients were free of medication for at least 4 weeks before the beginning of the study. During that time, there were no changes in the symptoms of the patients. Subjects continued to receive educational and behavioral interventions, which were not altered substantially in any of the patients during their participation in the study. The means of parent and mentor ratings were averaged over the 4-week treatment period. Clinician and mentor ratings were made at the beginning of the treatment period and then weekly up to the end of the treatment. Ratings were compared by paired t-test.

Panax ginseng slightly improved the ratings on the ABC factors: irritability (before treatment, 13.2 +/− 5.9; after treatment, 11.3 +/− 6.2; p =.41), hyperactivity (before treatment, 20.6+/−12.4;     after,18.4+/− 9.4; p = .33), inadequate eye contact (before treatment, 8.6 +/− 5.4; after, 7.5 +/− 3.2; p .35), and inappropriate speech (before treatment, 6.1+/−2.2;after, 4.3 +/− 3.6; p = .41). The symptom checklist scores revealed a slight increase in drowsiness (before treatment, 1.6 +/− 2.2; after, 2.9+/−4.2; p =.31) and decreased activity (before treatment, 2.5 +/− 3.3; after, 4.4 +/− 3.1; p = 0.40). None of the clinician ratings showed significant improvement. This may result from different impressions of clinical visits and daily life observations of caregivers. Panax ginseng has some moderate sedative effect with effects especially on daily life, a fact that also makes it effective in the treatment of attention deficit/hyperactive disorders. None of the subjects appeared to have headaches or stomach aches, although report of such side effects was limited by the expressive language and social skills of these subjects. Medication was continued after the observation period. We did not see any significant changes in symptoms.

Although this was a very small study (n = 3), which revealed very modest therapeutic effect of Panax ginseng in the management of autistic patients in some of the subjects (which might be due to the small sample size), it may be mentioned that its role in the management of these symptoms in patients with autistic disorder may be limited, especially because of its risk for estrogen-associated problems in females (Papapetropoulos, 07). Since there does not seem to be any significant improvement caused by Panaxginseng, its effect as an add-on therapy remains completely open and requires further investigation. Before knowing its efficacy for adults, Panax ginseng should not be recommended for treating children suffering from autism.

Ginseng for ADHD? 

Objective: There is evidence that Korean red ginseng (KRG) can reduce the production of the adrenal corticosteroids, cortisol, and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), and thus may be a viable treatment for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The present randomized double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial tested the effect of KRG on children with ADHD symptoms.
Methods: Subjects 6–15 years, who satisfied the inclusion criteria and had ADHD symptoms, were randomized into a KRG group (n=33) or a control group (n=37). The KRG group received one pouch of KRG (1g KRG extract/pouch) twice a day, and the control group received one pouch of placebo twice a day. At the 8 week point, the primary outcomes were the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) criteria for inattention and hyperactivity scale scores, which were measured at baseline and 8 weeks after starting treatment. Secondary outcomes were quantitative electroencephalography theta/beta ratio (QEEG TBR) (measured at baseline and week 8) and salivary cortisol and DHEA levels (measured at baseline and at 4 and 8 weeks).
Results: The baseline characteristics of the KRG and control groups were not statistically different. The mean ages of the KRG and control groups were 10.94±2.26 and 10.86±2.41, respectively. The KRG group had significantly decreased inattention/hyperactivity scores compared with the control group at week 8 (least squared means of the differences in inattention adjusted for baseline scores: −2.25 vs. −1.24, p=0.048; hyperactivity: −1.53 vs. −0.61, p=0.047). The KRG group had significantly decreased QEEG TBR compared with the control group (least squared means of the differences: −0.94 vs. −0.14, p=0.001). However, neither the KRG group nor the control group exhibited significant differences in salivary cortisol or DHEA levels at week 8 compared with the baseline levels. No serious adverse events were reported in either group.
Conclusions: These results suggest that KRG extract may be an effective and safe alternative treatment for children with inattention and hyperactivity/ impulsivity symptoms. Further studies to investigate the efficacy and safety of KRG are warranted. 
Although medications to treat psychiatric disorders for children and adolescents have been widely researched and several are on the market, natural products may also be effective in these patients while inducing fewer significant adverse effects. The present randomized controlled trial was performed to assess whether KRG, a well-known traditional medicine plant that is used particularly frequently in Eastern Asia, can improve the adrenal function and inattention/hyperactivity symptoms of chronically stressed children with ADHD symptoms. KRG extract significantly improved the inattention and hyperactivity of the subjects and had a good safety profile. However, the KRG extract did not have significant effects on cortisol or DHEA levels

Clinical Significance
To our knowledge, this is the first randomized controlled trial to investigate the efficacy and safety of Korean red ginseng extract for children with ADHD. The stimulant medications for ADHD have demonstrated not only clinical efficacy, but also significant adverse events such as poor growth, tics, and psychosis. Although KRG extract did not affect the salivary cortisol or DHEA, it significantly improved ADHD symptoms and QEEG TBR. And the safety profile of KRG extract was good. The results imply that KRG extract is a possible effective alternative medication for ADHD children.


A combination herbal product containing American ginseng extract, Panax quinquefolium, (200 mg) and Ginkgo biloba extract (50 mg) (AD-FX; CV Technologies, Edmonton, Alta.) was tested for its ability to improve the symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). 


Open study. 


36 children ranging in age from 3 to 17 years who fit the diagnostic criteria for ADHD. 


AD-FX capsules were taken twice a day on an empty stomach for 4 weeks. Patients were instructed not to change any other medications during the study. 


At the beginning of the study, after 2 weeks, and then at the end of the 4-week trial, parents completed the Conners' Parent Rating Scale--revised, long version, a questionnaire that assesses a broad range of problem behaviours (and was used as an indication of ADHD symptom severity). 


After 2 weeks of treatment, the proportion of the subjects exhibiting improvement (i.e., decrease in T-score of at least 5 points) ranged from 31% for the anxious-shy attribute to 67% for the psychosomatic attribute. After 4 weeks of treatment, the proportion of subjects exhibiting improvement ranged from 44% for the social problems attribute to 74% for the Conners' ADHD index and the DSM-IV hyperactive-impulsive attribute. Five (14%) of 36 subjects reported adverse events, only 2 of which were considered related to the study medication. 


These preliminary results suggest AD-FX treatment may improve symptoms of ADHD and should encourage further research on the use of ginseng and Ginkgo biloba extracts to treat ADHD symptoms.

Interactions of ginsenosides with ligand-bindings of GABA(A) and GABA(B) receptors.


1. Total saponin fraction decreased the affinity of specific [3H]muscimol binding without changes in Bmax. Ginsenoside Rb1 Rb2, Rc, Re, Rf and Rg1 inhibited the specific [3H]muscimol binding to the high-affinity site. 2. Total saponin fraction increased the affinity of specific [3H]flunitrazepam binding. Ginsenoside Re and Rf enhanced specific [3H]flunitrazepam binding.

3. Total saponin fraction decreased the affinity of specific [35S]TBPS binding without changes in Bmax. Ginsenosides did not affect specific or non-specific [35S]TBPS binding.
4. Total saponin fraction decreased the affinity of specific [3H]baclofen binding without changes in Bmax. Ginsenoside Rc inhibited specific [3H]baclofen binding.

very detailed paper

Also (Ling) note that there is an effect on ERbeta

A ginseng-derived oestrogen receptor beta (ERbeta) agonist, Rb1 ginsenoside, attenuates capillary morphogenesis.

 Ginseng extracts contain a variety of active ingredients and have been shown to promote or inhibit angiogenesis, depending on the presence of different ginsenosides that exert opposing effects on blood vessel growth. Leung et al. in this issue of the British Journal of Pharmacology report that Rb1, a ginsenoside that constitutes only 0.37–0.5% of ginseng extracts (depending on manufacturing and processing methods), blocks tube-like network formation by endothelial cells in vitro. At the molecular level, Rb1 binds to the oestrogen receptors and stimulates the transcription of pigment epithelium-derived factor that, in turn, inhibits matrix-driven capillary morphogenesis.

Ginseng, the root of Panax ginseng and related species, has been a key component of traditional medicine in the Far East for over a thousand years. The genus name Panax means ‘cure all' in Greek; it, thus, comes as no surprise that ginseng has been described as beneficial in many different ailments (Huang, 1999; Kiefer and Pantuso, 2003; Ng, 2006). Perhaps the most studied biological actions of ginseng extracts and constituents are those relating to its inhibitory effects on solid tumour growth (Yun, 2001). The main active ingredients in ginseng-based herbal preparations are thought to be the ginsenosides, comprising 3–6% of ginseng extracts (Huang, 1999). 

Reviewed here is the existing evidence for the effects of ginseng extracts and isolated ginsenosides relevant to cognition in humans. Clinical studies in healthy volunteers and in patients with neurological disease or deficit, evidence from preclinical models of cognition, and pharmacokinetic data are considered. Conditions under which disease modification may indirectly benefit cognition but may not translate to cognitive benefits in healthy subjects are discussed. The number of chronic studies of ginseng effects in healthy individuals is limited, and the results from acute studies are inconsistent, making overall assessment of ginseng's efficacy as a cognitive enhancer premature. However, mechanistic results are encouraging; in particular, the ginsenosides Rg3 , Rh1 , Rh2 , Rb1 , Rd, Rg2 , and Rb3 , along with the aglycones protopanaxadiol and protopanaxatriol, warrant further attention. Compound K has a promising pharmacokinetic profile and can affect neurotransmission and neuroprotection. Properly conducted trials using standardized tests in healthy individuals reflecting the target population for ginseng supplementation are required to address inconsistencies in results from acute studies. The evidence summarized here suggests ginseng has potential, but unproven, benefits on cognition.

Ginseng is the most widely consumed herbal nutritional product in the world. According to the most recent data available, ginseng had a total world export value in 2010 of over US$350 million, which was expected to rise to more than US$400 million in 2012

The survey had 54 respondents and 4 (8.5%) used Ginseng.

There is a long list of substances shown to have a benefit in some autism. Today we can add the Asian type of Ginseng and also Acamprosate (at least for Fragile-X).
It would be interesting to see the effect of Phaclofen and Saclofen which may be more selective for GABAB receptors.
Ginseng has so many effects there is no way to know which is the one that benefited autism and ADHD in today’s highlighted posts.
We also have the problem with natural substances that there is natural variation and that supplement companies are known to cheat with ingredients. Ginseng roots are not cheap and apparently ginseng is known to get adulterated.  Drug companies are usually much more reliable.
If anyone tries out homotaurine or ginseng, let us all know the result.
Homotaurine was originally developed as an Alzheimer’s drug, but did not work well enough, its developer then tried to sell it as a supplement called Vivimind, but it was rejected by the FDA. It is sold in Canada and Europe. 
For our Aspie readers, here is a link for them:-