Showing posts with label Diart. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Diart. Show all posts

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Making best use of existing NKCC1/2 Blockers in Autism

Azosemide C12H11ClN6O2S2  

Today’s post may be of interest to those already using bumetanide for autism and for those considering doing so.  It does go into the details, because they really do matter and does assume some prior knowledge from earlier posts.

There has been a very thorough new paper published by a group at Johns Hopkins:-
It does cover all the usual issues and raises some points that have not been covered yet in this blog.  One point is treating autism prenatally. This issue was studied twice in rats, and the recent study was sent to me by Dr Ben Ari.  Short term treatment during pregnancy produced a permanent benefit.

Maternal bumetanide treatment prevents the overgrowth in the VPA condition

Brief maternal administration of bumetanide before birth restores low neuronal intracellular chloride concentration ([Cl]i) levels, produces an excitatory-to-inhibitory shift in the action of γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA), and attenuates the severity of electrical and behavioral features of ASD (9, 10), suggesting that [Cl]i levels during birth might play an important role in the pathogenesis of ASD (7). Here, the same bumetanide treatment significantly reduced the hippocampal and neocortical volumes of P0 VPA pups, abolishing the volume increase observed during birth in the VPA condition [hippocampus: P0 VPA versus P0 VPA + BUM (P = 0.0116); neocortex: P0 VPA versus P0 VPA + BUM (P = 0.0242); KWD] (Fig. 3B). Maternal bumetanide treatment also shifted the distribution of cerebral volumes from lognormal back to normal in the population of VPA brains, restoring smaller cerebral structure volumes (Fig. 3C). It also decreased the CA3 volume to CTL level after birth, suggesting that the increased growth observed in this region could be mediated by the excitatory actions of GABA (Fig. 3D). Therefore, maternal bumetanide administration prevents the enhanced growth observed in VPA animals during birth.

One issue with Bumetanide is that it affects both:-

·        NKCC2 in your kidneys, causing diuresis
·        NKCC1 in your brain and elsewhere, which is divided into two slightly different forms NKCC1a and NKCC1b

NKCC1 is also expressed in your inner ear where it is necessary for establishing the potassium-rich endolymph that bathes part of the cochlea, an organ necessary for hearing. 

If you block NKCC1 too much you will affect hearing.

Blocking NKCC1 in children and adults is seen as safe but the paper does query what the effect on hearing might be if given prenatally as the ear is developing.

Treating Down Syndrome Prenatally

While treating autism prenatally might seem a bit unlikely, treating Down Syndrome (DS) prenatally certainly is not.  Very often DS is accurately diagnosed before birth creating a valuable treatment window.  In most countries the vast majority of DS prenatal diagnoses lead to termination, but only a small percentage of pregnancies are tested for DS. In some countries such as Ireland a significant number of DS pregnancies are not terminated, these could be treated to reduce the deficits that will otherwise inevitably follow.

The research does suggest that DS is another brain disorder that responds to bumetanide.

Back to autism and NKCC1

This should remind us that a defect in NKCC1 expression will not only cause elevated levels of chloride with in neurons, but will also affect the levels of sodium and potassium with neurons.

There are many ion channel dysfunctions (channelopathies) implicated in autism and elevated levels of sodium and potassium will affect numerous ion channels.  The paper does suggest that the benefit of bumetanide may go beyond modifying the effect of GABA, which is the beneficial mode of action put forward by Dr Ben Ari.
We have seen how hypokalemic sensory overload looks very similar to what often occurs in autism and that autistic sensory overload is reduced by taking an oral potassium supplement.

The paper also reminds us that loop diuretics like bumetanide and furosemide not only reduce inflow of chloride into neurons, but may also reduce the outflow. This is particularly known of furosemide, but also occurs with bumetanide at higher doses.
The chart below shows that the higher the concentration of bumetanide the strong its effect becomes on blocking NKCC1.

But at higher doses there will also be a counter effect of closing the NKCC2 transporter that allows chloride to leave neurons.
At some point a higher dose of bumetanide may have a detrimental effect on trying to lower chloride within neurons.

Since Dr Ben Ari’s objective is to lower chloride levels in neurons  it is important how freely these ions both enter and exit.  The net effect is what matters. (Loop diuretics block NKCC1 that lets chloride enter neurons but also block the KCC2 transporter via which they exit)

Is Bumetanide the optimal existing drug to lower chloride within neurons?  Everyone agrees that it is not, because only a tiny amount crosses into the brain. The paper gives details of the prodrugs like BUM5 that have been looked at previously in this blog; these are modified versions of bumetanide that can better slip across the blood brain barrier and then react in the brain to produce bumetanide itself.  It also highlights the recent research that suggests that Bumetanide may not be the most potent approved drug, it is quite conceivable that another old drug called Azosemide is superior.

The blood brain barrier is the problem, as is often the case.  Bumetanide has a low pH (it is acidic) which hinders its diffusion across the barrier.  Only about 1% passes through.

There is scepticism among researchers that enough bumetanide can cross into the brain to actually do any good.  This is reflected in the review paper.

The paper reminds us of the research showing how you can boost the level of bumetanide in the brain by adding Probenecid, an OAT3 inhibitor.  During World War 2 antibiotics were in short supply and so smaller doses were used, but their effect was boosted by adding Probenecid. By blocking OAT3, certain types of drug like penicillin and bumetanide are excreted at a slower rate and so the net level in blood increases.

The effect of adding Probenecid, or another less potent OAT3 inhibitors, is really no different to just increasing the dose of bumetanide.

The problem with increasing the dose of bumetanide is that via its effect on NKCC2 you cause even more diuresis, until eventually a plateau is reached.

Eventually, drugs selective for NKCC1a and/or NKCC1b will appear.

In the meantime, the prodrug BUM5 looks good. It crosses the BBB much better than bumetanide, but it still affects NKCC2 and so will cause diuresis.  But BUM5 should be better than Bumetanide + Probenecid, or a higher dose of Bumetanide.  BUM5 remains a custom-made research drug, never used in humans.

I must say that what again stands out to me is the old German drug, Azosemide.

In a study previously highlighted in this blog, we saw that Azosemide is 4 times more potent than Bumetanide at blocking NKCC1a and NKCC1b.

Azosemide is more potent than bumetanide and various other loop diuretics to inhibit the sodium-potassium-chloride-cotransporter human variants hNKCC1A and hNKCC1B

Azosemide is used in Japan, where recent research shows it is actually more effective than other diuretics

Azosemide, a Long-acting Loop Diuretic, is Superior to Furosemide in Prevention of Cardiovascular Death in Heart Failure Patients Without Beta-blockade 

As is often the case, Japanese medicine has taken a different course to Western medicine.

Years of safety information has already been accumulated on Azosemide.  It is not an untried research drug. It was brought to market in 1981 in Germany. It is available as Diart in Japan made by Sanwa Kagaku Kenkyusho and as a cheaper generic version by Choseido Pharmaceutical. In South Korea Azosemide is marketed as Uretin.

In any other sector other than medicine, somebody would have thought to check by now if Azosemide is better than Bumetanide.  It is not a matter of patents, Ben-Ari has patented all of the possible drugs, including Azosemide and of course Bumetanide.

So now we move on to Azosemide.

When researchers came to check the potency of the above drugs the results came as a surprise.  It turns out that the old German drug Azosemide is 4 times as potent as bumetanide.

The big question is how does it cross the blood brain barrier.

“The low brain concentrations of bumetanide obtained after systemic administration are thought to result from its high ionization (>99%) at physiological pH and its high plasma protein binding (>95%), which restrict brain entry by passive diffusion, as well as active efflux transport at the blood-brain barrier(BBB). The poor brain penetration of bumetanide is a likely explanation for its controversial efficacy in the treatment of brain diseases

“… azosemide was more potent than any other diuretic, including bumetanide, to inhibit the two NKCC1 variants. The latter finding is particularly interesting because, in contrast to bumetanide, which is a relatively strong acid (pKa = 3.6), azosemide is not acidic (pKa = 7.38), which should favor its tissue distribution by passive diffusion. Lipophilicity (logP) of the two drugs is in the same range (2.38 for azosemide vs. 2.7 for bumetanide). Furthermore, azosemide has a longer duration of action than bumetanide, which results in superior clinical efficacy26 and may be an important advantage for treatment of brain diseases with abnormal cellular chloride homeostasis.”

Dosage equivalents of loop Diuretics

Bumetanide has very high oral bioavailablity, meaning almost all of what you swallow as a pill makes it into your bloodstream.

Furosemide and Azosemide have much lower bioavailability and so higher doses are needed to give the same effect.

Both Furosemide and Bumetanide are short acting, while Azosemide is long acting.

For a drug that needs to cross the blood brain barrier small differences might translate into profoundly different effects.

The limiting factor in all these drugs is their effect on NKCC2 that causes diuresis.

1mg of bumetanide is equivalent to 40mg of furosemide.
2mg of bumetanide is equivalent to 80mg of furosemide.

The standard dose for Azosemide in Japan, where people are smaller than in the West, is 30 mg or 60mg. 

Research suggests that the same concentration of Azosemide is 4x more potent than Bumetanide at blocking NKCC1 transporters, other factors that matter include:-

·        How much of the oral tablet ends up in the bloodstream.
·        How long does it stay in the blood stream
·        How much of the drug actually crosses the blood brain barrier
·        How does the drug bind to the NKCC1 transporters in neurons
·        How rapidly is the drug excreted from the brain
·        What effect is there on the KCC2 transporter that controls the exit of chloride ions from neurons.

All of this comes down to which is more effective in adults with autism 2mg of bumetanide or 60mg of Azosemide.

The side effects, which are mainly diuresis and loss of electrolytes will be similar, but Azosemide is a longer acting drug and so there will be differences. In fact Azosemide is claimed to be less troublesome than Bumetanide in lower potassium levels in your blood.


The open question is whether generic Azosemide is “better” than generic Bumetanide for treating brain disorders in humans.

I did recently ask Dr Ben-Ari if he is aware of any data on this subject. There is none.

Many millions of dollars/euros are being spent getting Bumetanide approved for autism, so it would be a pity if Azosemide turns out to be better. (Dr Ben Ari’s company Neurochlore wants to develop a new molecule that will cross the blood brain barrier, block NKCC1 and not NKCC2 and so will not cause diuresis).

The hunch of the researchers from Hanover, Germany seems to be that the old German drug Azosemide will be better than Bumetanide.

I wonder if doctors at Johns Hopkins / Kennedy Krieger have started to prescribe bumetanide off-label to their patients with autism.  Their paper shows that they have a very comprehensive knowledge of the subject.


I suggest readers consult the full version of the Johns Hopkins review paper on Bumetanide, it is peppered with links to all the relevant papers.

Bumetanide (BTN or BUM) is a FDA-approved potent loop diuretic (LD) that acts by antagonizing sodium-potassium-chloride (Na-K-Cl) cotransporters, NKCC1 (SLc12a2) and NKCC2. While NKCC1 is expressed both in the CNS and in systemic organs, NKCC2 is kidney-specific. The off-label use of BTN to modulate neuronal transmembrane Clgradients by blocking NKCC1 in the CNS has now been tested as an anti-seizure agent and as an intervention for neurological disorders in pre-clinical studies with varying results. BTN safety and efficacy for its off-label use has also been tested in several clinical trials for neonates, children, adolescents, and adults. It failed to meet efficacy criteria for hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) neonatal seizures. In contrast, positive outcomes in temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE), autism, and schizophrenia trials have been attributed to BTN in studies evaluating its off-label use. NKCC1 is an electroneutral neuronal Climporter and the dominance of NKCC1 function has been proposed as the common pathology for HIE seizures, TLE, autism, and schizophrenia. Therefore, the use of BTN to antagonize neuronal NKCC1 with the goal to lower internal Cl levels and promote GABAergic mediated hyperpolarization has been proposed. In this review, we summarize the data and results for pre-clinical and clinical studies that have tested off-label BTN interventions and report variable outcomes. We also compare the data underlying the developmental expression profile of NKCC1 and KCC2, highlight the limitations of BTN’s brain-availability and consider its actions on non-neuronal cells.

Btn Pro-Drugs and Analogs

To improve BTN accessibility to the brain, pro-drugs with lipophilic and uncharged esters, alcohol and amide analogs have been created. These pro-drugs convert to BTN after gaining access into the brain. There was a significantly higher concentration of ester prodrug, BUM5 (N,N – dimethylaminoethyl ester), in mouse brains compared to the parent BTN (10 mg/kg, IV of BTN and equimolar dose of 13 mg/kg, IV of BUM5) (Töllner et al., 2014). BUM5 stopped seizures in adult animal models where BTN failed to work (Töllner et al., 2014Erker et al., 2016). BUM5 was also less diuretic and showed better brain access when compared to the other prodrugs, BUM1 (ester prodrug), BUM7 (alcohol prodrug) and BUM10 (amide prodrug). BUM5 was reported to be more effective than BTN in altering seizure thresholds in epileptic animals post-SE and post-kindling (Töllner et al., 2014). Furthermore, BUM5 (13 mg/kg, IV) was more efficacious than BTN (10 mg/kg, IV) in promoting the anti-seizure effects of PB, in a maximal electroshock seizure model (Erker et al., 2016). Compared to BUM5 which was an efficacious adjunct to PB in the above mentioned study, BTN was not efficacious when administered as an adjunct (Erker et al., 2016). In addition to seizure thresholds, further studies need to be conducted to assess effects of BUM5 on seizure burdens, ictal events, duration and latencies.
Recently, a benzylamine derivative, bumepamine, has been investigated in pre-clinical models. Since benzylamine derivatives lack the carboxylic group of BTN, it results in lower diuretic activity (Nielsen and Feit, 1978). This prompted Brandt et al. (2018) to explore the proposed lower diuretic activity, higher lipophilicity and lower ionization rate of bumepamine at physiological pH. Since it is known that rodents metabolize BTN quicker than humans, the study used higher doses of 10 mg/kg of bumepamine similar to their previous BTN studies (Olsen, 1977Brandt et al., 2010Töllner et al., 2014). Bumepamine, while only being nominally metabolized to BTN, was more effective than BTN to support anticonvulsant effects of PB in rodent models of epilepsy. This GABAergic response, however, was not due to antagonistic actions on NKCC1; suggesting bumepamine may have an off-target effect, which remains unknown. However, the anticonvulsive effects of bumepamine, in spite of its lack of action on NKCC1, are to be noted. Additionally, in another study by the same group, it was shown that azosemide was 4-times more potent an inhibitor of NKCC1 than BTN, opening additional avenues for better BBB penetration and NKCC1-antagonizing compounds for potential neurological drug discovery (Hampel et al., 2018).


The beneficial effects of BTN reported in cases of autism, schizophrenia and TLE, given its poor-brain bioavailability are intriguing. The mechanisms underlying the effects of BTN, as a neuromodulator for developmental and neuropsychiatric disorders could be multifactorial due to prominent NKCC1 function at neuronal and non-neuronal sites within the CNS. Investigation of the possible off-target and systemic effects of BTN may help further this understanding with the advent of a new generation of brain-accessible BTN analogs.