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Showing posts with label FRAX486. Show all posts
Showing posts with label FRAX486. Show all posts

Friday, 19 August 2016

PAK inhibitors and potentially treating some Autism using Grandpa’s Medicine Cabinet





I wrote several posts about why PAK1 inhibitors should be beneficial in some autism and indeed some schizophrenia.

We also saw that PAK1-blocking drugs could be potentially useful for the treatment of neurofibromatosis type 2, in addition to RAS-induced cancers and neurofibromatosis type 1.

One problem with drugs developed for cancer is that, even if they finally get approved, they tend to be ultra-expensive.  Production volumes are low because even if they “work” they do not prolong life for so long and cancer has numerous sub-types.

Cheap drugs are ones used to treat common chronic conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and indeed treatment of male lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS), like benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH).

A small number of readers of this blog have confirmed the beneficial effect of PAK inhibitors in their specific sub-types of autism.  The problem is that there are no potent PAK1 inhibitors suitable for long term use that are readily available.

The anti-parasite drug Ivermectin is an extremely cheap PAK1 inhibitor, but cannot be used long term, due to its other effects.

Propolis containing CAPE (Caffeic Acid Phenethyl Ester) is a natural PAK1 inhibitor, but may not be sufficiently potent as is reported by people with neurofibromatosis.

You would think somebody would just synthesize CAPE (Caffeic Acid Phenethyl Ester) artificially and then higher doses could be achieved.


PAK Inhibitors and Treatment of Prostate Enlargement

I was rather surprised that research has recently been published suggesting that PAK inhibitors could be used to treat the prostate enlargement, common in most older men. 



Abstract

Prostate smooth muscle tone and hyperplastic growth are involved in the pathophysiology and treatment of male lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS). Available drugs are characterized by limited efficacy. Patients’ adherence is particularly low to combination therapies of 5α-reductase inhibitors and α1-adrenoceptor antagonists, which are supposed to target contraction and growth simultaneously. Consequently, molecular etiology of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) and new compounds interfering with smooth muscle contraction or growth in the prostate are of high interest. Here, we studied effects of p21-activated kinase (PAK) inhibitors (FRAX486, IPA3) in hyperplastic human prostate tissues, and in stromal cells (WPMY-1). In hyperplastic prostate tissues, PAK1, -2, -4, and -6 may be constitutively expressed in catecholaminergic neurons, while PAK1 was detected in smooth muscle and WPMY-1 cells. Neurogenic contractions of prostate strips by electric field stimulation were significantly inhibited by high concentrations of FRAX486 (30 μM) or IPA3 (300 μM), while noradrenaline- and phenylephrine-induced contractions were not affected. FRAX486 (30 μM) inhibited endothelin-1- and -2-induced contractions. In WPMY-1 cells, FRAX486 or IPA3 (24 h) induced concentration-dependent (1–10 μM) degeneration of actin filaments. This was paralleled by attenuation of proliferation rate, being observed from 1 to 10 μM FRAX486 or IPA3. Cytotoxicity of FRAX486 and IPA3 in WPMY-1 cells was time- and concentration-dependent. Stimulation of WPMY-1 cells with endothelin-1 or dihydrotestosterone, but not noradrenaline induced PAK phosphorylation, indicating PAK activation by endothelin-1. Thus, PAK inhibitors may inhibit neurogenic and endothelin-induced smooth muscle contractions in the hyperplastic human prostate, and growth of stromal cells. Targeting prostate smooth muscle contraction and stromal growth at once by a single compound is principally possible, at least under experimental conditions.


It looks like a PAK inhibitor could potentially solve both the key problems in BPH and so replace the current therapies.



Existing Drugs for LUTS/BPH

Undoubtedly someone is going to wonder whether existing drugs for LUTS/BPH might improve autism.  This is actually possible, but totally unrelated to PAK1 inhibition and RASopathies.

Existing drugs are in two classes, 5α-reductase inhibitors and α1-adrenoceptor antagonists.


α-adrenoceptor antagonists

Alpha blockers relax certain muscles and help small blood vessels remain open. They work by keeping the hormone norepinephrine (noradrenaline) from tightening the muscles in the walls of smaller arteries and veins, which causes the vessels to remain open and relaxed. This improves blood flow and lowers blood pressure.
Because alpha blockers also relax other muscles throughout the body, these medications can help improve urine flow in older men with prostate problems.

Selective α1-adrenergic receptor antagonists are often used in BPH because it is the α1-adrenergic receptor that is present in the prostate.

 α 2-adrenergic receptors are present elsewhere in the body

Alpha-2 blockers are used to treat anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They decrease sympathetic outflow from the central nervous system. Post-traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety disorder that is theorized to be related to a hyperactive sympathetic nervous system.

Alpha-2 receptor agonists for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder



So a nonselective alpha blocker, like one given to an older man with high blood pressure and BPH, might well have an effect on some kinds of anxiety.

You would think that a selective alpha 2 blocker might be interesting, how about Idazoxan?

Idazoxan is a drug which is used in research. It acts as both a selective α2 adrenergic receptor antagonist, and an antagonist for the imidazoline receptor. Idazoxan has been under investigation as an antidepressant, but it did not reach the market as such. More recently, it is under investigation as an adjunctive treatment in schizophrenia. Due to its alpha-2 receptor antagonism it is capable of enhancing therapeutic effects of antipsychotics, possibly by enhancing dopamine neurotransmission in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, a brain area thought to be involved in the pathogenesis of schizophrenia.


Mirtazapine is a cheap generic drug used at high doses for depression.  It happens to be a selective alpha 2 blocker, but it has numerous other effects as well.  One reader of this blog does respond very well to Mirtazapine.


So realistically in Grandpa’s medicine cabinet there might a selective alpha 1 agonist or a non-selective alpha agonist, it is the latter type that might have an effect on some kinds of autism.


5α-reductase inhibitors

The pharmacology of 5α-reductase inhibition involves the binding of NADPH to the enzyme followed by the substrate. Specific substrates include testosterone, progesterone, androstenedione, epitestosterone, cortisol, aldosterone, and deoxycorticosterone.

Beyond being a catalyst in testosterone reduction, 5α-reductase isoforms I and II reduce progesterone to 5α-dihydroprogesterone (5α-DHP) and deoxycorticosterone to dihydrodeoxycorticosterone (DHDOC).

In vitro and animal models suggest subsequent 3α-reduction of DHT, 5α-DHP and DHDOC lead to neurosteroid metabolites with effect on cerebral function.

These neurosteroids, which include allopregnanolone, tetrahydrodeoxycorticosterone (THDOC), and 5α-androstanediol, act as potent positive allosteric modulators of GABAA receptors, and have anticonvulsant, antidepressant, anxiolytic, prosexual, and anticonvulsant effects.

Inhibition of 5α-reductase results in decreased conversion of testosterone to DHT.

This, in turn, results in slight elevations in testosterone and estradiol levels. 

In BPH, DHT acts as a potent cellular androgen and promotes prostate growth; therefore, it inhibits and alleviates symptoms of BPH. In alopecia, male and female-pattern baldness is an effect of androgenic receptor activation, so reducing levels of DHT also reduces hair loss.

A new look at the 5alpha-reductase inhibitor finasteride


Finasteride is the first 5alpha-reductase inhibitor that received clinical approval for the treatment of human benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) and androgenetic alopecia (male pattern hair loss). These clinical applications are based on the ability of finasteride to inhibit the Type II isoform of the 5alpha-reductase enzyme, which is the predominant form in human prostate and hair follicles, and the concomitant reduction of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT). In addition to catalyzing the rate-limiting step in the reduction of testosterone, both isoforms of the 5alpha-reductase enzyme are responsible for the reduction of progesterone and deoxycorticosterone to dihydroprogesterone (DHP) and dihydrodeoxycorticosterone (DHDOC), respectively. Recent preclinical data indicate that the subsequent 3alpha-reduction of DHT, DHP and DHDOC produces steroid metabolites with rapid non-genomic effects on brain function and behavior, primarily via an enhancement of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)ergic inhibitory neurotransmission. Consistent with their ability to enhance the action of GABA at GABA(A) receptors, these steroid derivatives (termed neuroactive steroids) possess anticonvulsant, antidepressant and anxiolytic effects in addition to altering aspects of sexual- and alcohol-related behaviors. Thus, finasteride, which inhibits both isoforms of 5alpha-reductase in rodents, has been used as a tool to manipulate neuroactive steroid levels and determine the impact on behavior. Results of some preclinical studies and clinical observations with finasteride are described in this review article. The data suggest that endogenous neuroactive steroid levels may be inversely related to symptoms of premenstrual and postpartum dysphoric disorder, catamenial epilepsy, depression, and alcohol withdrawal.


This would suggest that a 5α-reductase inhibitor, like finasteride, that might be among Grandpa’s tablets might very well have an effect on someone with GABAa dysfunction, this includes very many people with autism, schizophrenia and Down Syndrome.

Whether the effect will be good or bad is hard to say, and may well depend on whether other drugs that target GABA or NMDA receptors are being used. Due to their other effects, 5α-reductase inhibitors are usually only used in adults.

Merck developed a lower dose form of finasteride, called Prospecia to treat baldness, usually in men.  It is 20% the normal potency used for BPH.


Side effects

The current BPH drugs cause side effects in some people.  PAK1 inhibitors may also have some side effects.


Conclusion

Going back in the days of living with your extended family might make treating many people’s autism much simpler.  It looks like many older people’s drugs can be repurposed for some types of autism (ion channel modifying diuretics, calcium channel blockers, statins, even potentially intranasal insulin in some).  Because older people’s drugs are so widely used they are well understood and inexpensive.  

Clearly the research on PAK inhibitors for LUTS/BPH is at an early stage, but there is a huge potential market.   A widely available PAK1 inhibitor might be a big help to some people with autism, neurofibromatosis, other RASopathies, not just Grandpa’s prostate.

In addition to FRAX486 and IPA3, why doesn’t someone try synthetic CAPE, i.e. without the bees, as a PAK inhibitor?

Bioactivity and chemical synthesis of caffeic acid phenethyl ester and its derivatives.



There is far more chance of a PAK1 inhibitor coming to market for LUTS/BPH, or certain cancers than for autism.  That is a fact of life.

As for 5α-reductase inhibitors, like finasteride, we know from Hardan’s study on Pregnenolone at Stanford that this hormone can have a positive effect and we know that various natural steroid metabolites will modulate GABA subunits.  So it is quite likely that finasteride is going have a behavioral effect.  Perhaps Hardan would like to trial finasteride 5mg and 1mg (Prospecia) in some adults with autism. I suspect it will make some people “worse” and others somewhat “better”; so please do not report the “average” response, highlight the nature of the positive responders.






Monday, 30 May 2016

Sense, Missense or Nonsense - Interpreting Genetic Research in Autism (TCF4, TSC2 , Shank3 and Wnt)




Some clever autism researchers pin their hopes on genetics, while some equally clever ones are not convinced.

One big problem is that genetic testing is still not very rigorous, it is fine if you know what you are looking for, like a specific single gene defect, but if it is a case of find any possible defect in any of the 700+ autism genes it can be hopeless.

Most of the single gene types of autism can be diagnosed based on known physical differences and then that specific gene can be analyzed to confirm the diagnosis.

Today’s post includes some recent examples from the research, and they highlight what is often lacking - some common sense.

There are numerous known single gene conditions that lead to a cascade of dysfunctions that can result in behaviors people associate with autism.  However in most of these single gene conditions, like Fragile X or Pitt-Hopkins, there is a wide spectrum, from mildly affected to severely affected.

There are various different ways in which a gene can be disturbed and so within a single gene condition there can be a variety of sub-dysfunctions.  A perfect example was recently forwarded to me, a study showing how a partial deletion of the Pitt Hopkins gene (TCF4) produced no physical features of the syndrome, but did unfortunately produce intellectual disability.

The study goes on to suggest that “screening for mutations in TCF4 could be considered in the investigation of NSID (non-syndromic intellectual disability)”

Partial deletion of TCF4 in three generation family with non-syndromic intellectual disability, without features of Pitt-Hopkins syndrome



This all matters because one day when therapies for Pitt Hopkins are available, they would very likely be effective on the cognitive impairment of those with undiagnosed partial-Pitt Hopkins.



Another reader sent me links to the studies showing:-


Rapamycin reverses impaired social interaction in mouse models of tuberous sclerosis complex.

Reversal of learning deficits in a Tsc2+/- mouse model of tuberous sclerosis.


But isn’t that Tuberous sclerosis (TSC) extremely rare? like Pitt Hopkins.  Is it really relevant?

Tuberous sclerosis (TSC)  is indeed a rare multisystem genetic disease that causes benign tumors to grow in the brain and on other vital organs such as the kidneys, heart, eyes, lungs, and skin. A combination of symptoms may include seizures, intellectual disability, developmental delay, behavioral problems, skin abnormalities, and lung and kidney disease. TSC is caused by a mutation of either of two genes, TSC1 and TSC2, 

About 60% of people with TSC have autism (biased to TSC2 mutations) and many have epilepsy.

How rare is TSC?  According to research between seven and 12 cases per 100,000, with more than half of these cases undetected.  

Call it 0.01%, rare indeed.

How rare is partial TSC?  What is partial TSC?  That is just my name for what happens when you have just a minor missense mutation, you have a mutation in TSC2 but have none of the characteristic traits of tuberous sclerosis, except autism.
In a recent study of children with autism 20% has a missense mutation of TSC2. 

Not so rare after all.


Mutations in tuberous sclerosis gene may be rife in autism


Mutations in TSC2, a gene typically associated with a syndrome called tuberous sclerosis, are found in many children with autism, suggests a genetic analysis presented yesterday at the 2016 International Meeting for Autism Research in Baltimore.
The findings support the theory that autism results from multiple ‘hits’ to the genome.
Tuberous sclerosis is characterized by benign tumors and skin growths called macules. Autism symptoms show up in about half of all people with tuberous sclerosis, perhaps due to abnormal wiring of neurons in the brain. Tuberous sclerosis is thought to result from mutations in either of two genes: TSC1 or TSC2.
The new analysis finds that mutations in TSC2 can also be silent, as far as symptoms of the syndrome go: Researchers found the missense mutations in 18 of 87 people with autism, none of whom have any of the characteristic traits of tuberous sclerosis.
“They had no macules, no seizure history,” says senior researcher Louisa Kalsner, assistant professor of pediatrics and neurology at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine in Farmington, who presented the results. “We were surprised.”
The researchers stumbled across the finding while searching for genetic variants that could account for signs of autism in children with no known cause of the condition. They performed genetic testing on blood samples from 87 children with autism.

Combined risk:

To see whether silent TSC2 mutations are equally prevalent in the general population, the researchers scanned data from 53,599 people in the Exome Aggregation Consortium database. They found the mutation in 10 percent of the individuals.
The researchers looked more closely at the children with autism, comparing the 18 children who have the mutation with the 69 who do not.
Children with TSC2 mutations were diagnosed about 10 months earlier than those without a mutation, suggesting the TSC2 mutations increase the severity of autism features. But in her small sample, Kalsner says, the groups show no differences in autism severity or cognitive skills. The researchers also found that 6 of the 18 children with TSC2 mutations are girls, compared with 12 of 69 children who don’t have the mutation.
TSC2 variants may combine with other genetic variants to increase the risk of autism. “We don’t think TSC is the sole cause of autism in these kids, but there’s a significant chance that it increases their risk,” Kalsner says.


"hyperactivation of the mechanistic target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1) is a consequence of tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC) 1/2 inactivation."

"the combination of rapamycin and resveratrol may be an effective clinical strategy for treatment of diseases with mTORC1 hyperactivation."


So for the 20% of autism with partial TSC, so-called Rapalogs and other mTOR inhibitors could be helpful, but Rapalogs all have side effects.

One interesting option that arose in my earlier post on Type 3 diabetes and intranasal insulin is Metformin. The common drug used for type 2 diabetes.

 








Metformin regulates mTORC1 signaling (but so does insulin).

'Metformin activates AMPK by inhibiting oxidative phosphorylation, which in turn negatively regulates mTORC1 signaling via activation of TSC2 and inhibitory phosphorylation of raptor. In parallel, metformin inhibits mTORC1 signaling by suppressing the activity of the Rag GTPases and upregulating REDD1."

Source:  Rapalogs and mTOR inhibitors as anti-aging therapeutics



Clearly you could also just use intranasal insulin.  It might be less potent but should have less side effects because it acting only within the CNS (Metfornin would be given orally).



The Shank protein and the Wnt protein family

Mutations in a gene called Shank3 occur in about 0.5 percent of people with autism.  
But what about partial Shank3 dysfunction?

Shank proteins also play a role in synapse formation and dendritic spine maturation.

Mutations in this gene are associated with autism spectrum disorder. This gene is often missing in patients with 22q13.3 deletion syndrome

Researchers at MIT have just shown, for the first time, that loss of Shank3 affects a well-known set of proteins that comprise the Wnt signaling pathway.  Without Shank3, Wnt signaling is impaired and the synapses do not fully mature.


“The finding raises the possibility of treating autism with drugs that promote Wnt signaling, if the same connection is found in humans”

I have news for MIT, people already do use drugs that promote Wnt signaling, FRAX486 and Ivermectin for example.  All without any genetic testing, most likely.


Reactivating Shank3, or just promote Wnt signaling

The study below showed that in mice, aspects of autism were reversible by reactivating the Shank3 gene.  You might expect that in humans with a partial Shank3 dysfunction you might jump forward to the Wnt signaling pathway and intervene there.

Mouse study offers promise of reversing autism symptoms


One reader of this blog finds FRAX486 very helpful and to be without harmful side effects.  FRAX 486 was recently acquired by Roche and is sitting over there on a shelf gathering dust.



Where from here?

I think we should continue to look at the single gene syndromes but realize that very many more people may be partially affected by them.

Today’s genetic testing gives many false negatives, unless people know what they are looking for; so many dysfunctions go unnoticed.

This area of science is far from mature and there may be many things undetected in the 97% of the genome that is usually ignored that affect expression of the 3% that is the exome.

So best not to expect all the answers, just yet, from genetic testing; maybe in another 50 years.

Understanding and treating multiple-hit-autism, which is the majority of all autism, will require more detailed consideration of which signaling pathways have been disturbed by these hits.  There are 700 autism genes but there a far fewer signaling pathways, so it is not a gargantuan task.  For now a few people are figuring this out at home.   Good for them.

I hope someone does trials of metformin and intranasal insulin in autism.  Intranasal insulin looks very interesting and I was surprised to see in those earlier posts is apparently without side effects.

The odd thing is that metformin is indeed being trialed in autism, but not for its effect on autism, but its possible effect in countering the obesity caused by the usual psychiatric drugs widely prescribed in the US to people with autism.

My suggestion would be to ban the use of drugs like Risperdal, Abilify, Seroquel, Zyprexa etc.

Vanderbilt enrolling children with autism in medication-related weight gain study



Here are details of the trial.


Metformin will be dispensed in a liquid suspension of 100 mg/mL. For children 6-9 years of age, metformin will be started at 250 mg at their evening meal for 1 week, followed by the addition of a 250 mg dose at breakfast for 1 week. At the Week 2 visit, if metformin is well-tolerated, the dose will be increased to 500 mg twice daily. For children from 10-17 years of age, metformin will be started at 250 mg at their evening meal for 1 week, followed by the addition of a 250 mg dose at breakfast for 1 week. At the Week 2 visit, if metformin is well-tolerated, the dose will be increased to 500 mg twice daily. At the Week 4 visit, if metformin is well-tolerated, the dose will be increased to 850 mg twice daily.







Monday, 2 March 2015

CAPE-rich Propolis for Autism?

CAPE (caffeic acid phenethyl ester) is a substance known to be an inhibitor of PAK1.  PAK1 has been shown at MIT to be implicated in various disorders including Fragile X and schizophrenia.  PAK1 inhibitors are also effective in research models of various cancers, including leukemia.

There are currently no approved PAK1 inhibitor drugs, although several are in development.

PAK1 is also implicated in Neurofibromatosis, and clinicians have researched various alternative PAK1 inhibiting substances.  The two most interesting ones that I have already written posts about are:-

·        Ivermectin, an old anti-parasite drug (also shown effective in leukemia)
·        BIO 30 propolis, rich in CAPE

Ivermectin is already used as an autism treatment by “alternative” doctors who think autism is caused by parasites.  We saw in a recent post that a study looking for parasites in people with autism (in the US) found none.  Ivermectin reportedly does improve autism, according to one reader of this blog and other anecdotal evidence.

I think Ivermectin is likely to be more potent than BIO30, but Ivermectin cannot be safely used continuously, without long breaks.


BIO-30 Trial

Having discussed the idea with one of the Japanese Neurofibromatosis clinicians, it seemed worthwhile to see the effect in our kind of autism.

As you may have seen in previous posts the science behind PAK1 is complex.  It has numerous, mainly bad, effects.  It is involved in dendritic spine morphology; this might be one area where ongoing “damage” is still being done.  So when asked what kind of change I expected/hoped to see, I said “cognitive improvement”.

According to recent research:-

CAPE alone has never been used clinically, due to its poor bioavailability/water-solubility; Bio 30 contains plenty of lipids which solubilize CAPE, and also includes several other anticancer ingredients that seem to act synergistically with CAPE.

Propolis is widely used as a natural remedy, but this was my first experience with it.  The first problem was how to take it; it sticks to everything.

My solution is to cut a small piece of toast and then apply 20 drops of propolis.  Since propolis has a strong flavor, I try to mask it with a layer of Nutella spread on top.

I gave this “honey medicine” at breakfast and in early afternoon.  


Trial Conclusion

There is a cognitive enhancing effect, noticeable not just to me.  The effect is visible almost straight away, but was more noticeable with a dose of 2 x 20 drops than with my original 1 x 20 drops.

At this dosage, it is not revolutionary, but it does indeed provide a real “nootropic”/cognitive enhancing effect.


Propolis for All?

At the dose I am using, I would think this “therapy” is only worthwhile in people whose autism is well-controlled already; meaning no stimming/stereotypy/OCD, allergies/GI problems all resolved, no aggression or anxiety;  these behaviours will mask any benefit.

I actually think this is the first thing I have come across that looks ideally suited for Asperger’s and other HFA.

I did look on line for people trying BIO30 for schizophrenia, all I found was someone else asking the same question:-


Apparently FRAX486 treats schizophrenia in mice due to PAK1 inhibition. Why does no one try Bio 30 Propolis for schizophrenia, as it is a PAK1 inhibitor as well?


Propolis does have numerous other ingredients, including many very interesting flavonoids.

As long as you are not one of the one percent of people with a bee allergy, propolis seems a very safe product.

If you live in Australia or New Zealand you can buy the CAPE-rich propolis locally.  As we learnt in previous posts, only two types of propolis were found to be PAK1 inhibitors, an expensive one from Brazil and the CAPE-rich BIO30 Propolis from New Zealand.

If anyone tries it, please let me know the result.  You only need one bottle and a few days to see if it has an effect.






Thursday, 2 October 2014

Dendritic Spines in Autism – Why, and potentially how, to modify them





This blog is getting rather more detailed than I had anticipated.  

Today’s post is about something very complex, but not fully understood by anyone, so I will be somewhat superficial in my coverage.  Just click on the links to learn more detail.

There are two words that may be new to you – Morphology and Dendritic Spines.





Morphology, in biology, the study of the size, shape, and structure of animals, plants, and microorganisms and of the relationships of the parts comprising them.

For today it is really could be thought of as the variability in size and shape of something.


A dendritic spine is a small protrusion from a neuron's dendrite that typically receives input from a single synapse. Dendritic spines serve as a storage site for synaptic strength and help transmit electrical signals to the neuron's cell body. Most spines have a bulbous head (the spine head), and a thin neck that connects the head of the spine to the shaft of the dendrite. The dendrites of a single neuron can contain hundreds to thousands of spines. In addition to spines providing an anatomical substrate for memory storage and synaptic transmission, they may also serve to increase the number of possible contacts between neurons.







Now we combine our two new words and have a better summary of what this post is about:

Morphology of dendritic spines and mental disease

It turns out that shape of dendritic spines may play a key role in mental disease, including autism.

The shape is not fixed and live imaging studies have revealed that spines are remarkably dynamic, changing size and shape over timescales of seconds to minutes and of hours to days.

The shape is important as it impacts on function, malformations lead to dysfunctions that can affect a myriad of brain functions.

Here are some variations in the shape of dendritic spines.









In case you are thinking this is all rather abstract, let’s jump forward to a patent for a possible new treatment for autism.


Afraxis Patent

  
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

Described herein are p21 -activated kinase (PA ) inhibitors that alleviate, ameliorate, delay onset of, inhibit progression of, or reduce the severity of at least one of the symptoms associated with autism.

Claims  

WHAT IS CLAIMED IS:

1. A method for treating autism comprising administering to an individual in need thereof a therapeutically effective amount of a p21 -activated kinase (PAK) inhibitor.
2. The method of claim 1, wherein the PAK inhibitor modulates dendritic spine morphology or synaptic function.
3. The method of claim 2, wherein the PAK inhibitor modulates dendritic spine density.
4. The method of claim 2 or 3, wherein the PAK inhibitor modulates dendritic spine length.
5. The method of any of claims 1-4, wherein the PAK inhibitor modulates dendritic spine neck diameter.
6. The method of any one of claims 1-5, wherein the PAK inhibitor modulates dendritic spine head volume.
7. The method of any one of claims 1-6, wherein the PAK inhibitor modulates dendritic spine head diameter.
8. The method of claim 1 or 2, wherein the PAK inhibitor modulates the ratio of the number of mature dendritic spines to the number of immature dendritic spines.
9. The method of claim 1 or 2, wherein the PAK inhibitor modulates the ratio of the dendritic spine head diameter to dendritic spine length.
10. The method of claim 1 or 2, wherein the PAK inhibitor modulates synaptic function.

Etc …

Of course, plenty of patents turn out to be worthless nonsense, but I think the people at Afraxis do know what they are doing; time will tell.



Morphology or Number of Dendritic Spines?

The PAK1 researchers and others believe the morphology (shape) of the dendritic spines is the problem, others believe the problem is that there are just too many of them.

Research has shown that a particular gene (NrCAM) can increase/decrease the number of dendritic spines.

Studies at University of North Carolina showed that knocking out the NrCAM gene caused mice to exhibit the same sorts of social behaviors associated with autism in humans.

Researchers from Columbia University found an overabundance of the protein MTOR in mice bred to develop a rare form of autism. By using a drug to limit MTOR in mice, the Columbia researchers were able to decrease the number of dendritic spines and thus prune the overabundance of synaptic connections during adolescence. As a result, the social behaviors associated with autism were decreased. However, the drug (Rapamycin) used to limit MTOR can cause serious side effects.



Dr. Tang measured synapse density in a small section of tissue in each brain by counting the number of tiny spines that branch from these cortical neurons; each spine connects with another neuron via a synapse.
By late childhood, she found, spine density had dropped by about half in the control brains, but by only 16 percent in the brains from autism patients.
“It’s the first time that anyone has looked for, and seen, a lack of pruning during development of children with autism,” Dr. Sulzer said, “although lower numbers of synapses in some brain areas have been detected in brains from older patients and in mice with autistic-like behaviors.”
Using mouse models of autism, the researchers traced the pruning defect to a protein called mTOR. When mTOR is overactive, they found, brain cells lose much of their “self-eating” ability. And without this ability, the brains of the mice were pruned poorly and contained excess synapses. “While people usually think of learning as requiring formation of new synapses, “Dr. Sulzer says, “the removal of inappropriate synapses may be just as important.”

“What’s remarkable about the findings,” said Dr. Sulzer, “is that hundreds of genes have been linked to autism, but almost all of our human subjects had overactive mTOR and decreased autophagy, and all appear to have a lack of normal synaptic pruning. This says that many, perhaps the majority, of genes may converge onto this mTOR/autophagy pathway, the same way that many tributaries all lead into the Mississippi River. Overactive mTOR and reduced autophagy, by blocking normal synaptic pruning that may underlie learning appropriate behavior, may be a unifying feature of autism.”


Maness, a member of the UNC Neuroscience Center and the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities, also said that there are likely many other proteins downstream of NrCAM that depend on the protein to maintain the proper amount of dendritic spines. Decreasing NrCAM could allow for an increase in the levels of some of these proteins, thus kick starting the creation of dendritic spines.

Knocking out the gene NrCAM increases the number of dendritic spines  
   
Gene linked to increased dendritic spines -- asignpost of autism

  
The view from Japan

RIKEN is a large research institute in Japan, with an annual budget of US$760 million.  Their Brain Science Institute (BSI) has a mission to produce innovative research and technology leading to scientific discoveries of the brain.  So RIKEN  BSI is like MIT just for the brain.

Science does tend to stratify by geography.  Just as we saw that NGF (Nerve Growth Factor) is the preserve of the Italians, when it comes to PAK it is the Japanese.
As you can see below the Japanese are firmly behind PAK1. 

Abstract
The serine/threonine kinase p21-activated kinase 1 (Pak1) modulates actin and microtubule dynamics. The neuronal functions of Pak1, despite its abundant expression in the brain, have not yet been fully delineated. Previously, we reported that Pak1 mediates initiation of dendrite formation. In the present study, the role of Pak1 in dendritogenesis, spine formation and maintenance was examined in detail. Overexpression of constitutively active-Pak1 in immature cortical neurons increased not only the number of the primary branching on apical dendrites but also the number of basal dendrites. In contrast, introduction of dominant negative-Pak caused a reduction in both of these morphological features. The length and the number of secondary apical branch points of dendrites were not significantly different in cultured neurons expressing these mutant forms, suggesting that Pak1 plays a role in dendritogenesis. Pak1 also plays a role in the formation and maintenance of spines, as evidenced by the altered spine morphology, resulting from overexpression of mutant forms of Pak1 in immature and mature hippocampal neurons. Thus, our results provide further evidence of the key role of Pak1 in the regulation of dendritogenesis, dendritic arborization, the spine formation, and maintenance.


SHANK3 and Dendritic Spines

Mutations of the SHANK3 gene are known to cause autism. 

Researchers in France found that SHANK3 mutations lead to modification of dendritic spine morphology and they identified the mechanism.



You may recall in my earlier posts on growth factors that it was this type of autism that responded to treatment with IGF1.



If you take a broader look at today’s subject you will see that various growth factors are indeed closely involved.  Here is some comment from Wayman Lab at Washington State University:- 


"Not surprisingly, abnormalities in dendritic arborization and spinogenesis, which diminish neuronal connectivity, are a common feature of the cognitively compromised aging brain as well as numerous forms of mental retardation including Fragile X, Fetal alcohol, Downs and Retts syndromes.

It is clear that changes in synaptic activity and neurotropic factors (e.g., BDNF) are effective initiators of the remodeling process and result in long-term alterations in dendrite and spine structure. What is not known are the molecular mechanisms that underlie how they stimulate dendritic spine formation."


Take your pick

So it looks like three different methods may exist to potentially modify dendritic spine numbers and morphology:-


1.   PAK1

Much work is ongoing regarding PAK1.  It is my current favorite.
For those interested here is a recent study using FRAX486 on Fragile X mice.


Abnormal dendritic spines are a common feature in FXS, idiopathic autism, and intellectual disability. Thus, this neuroanatomical abnormality may contribute to disease symptoms and severity. Here we take a hypothesis-driven, mechanism-based approach to the search for an effective therapy for FXS. We hypothesize that a treatment that rescues the dendritic spine defect may also ameliorate behavioral symptoms. Thus, we targeted a protein that regulates spines through modulation of actin cytoskeleton dynamics: p21-activated kinase (PAK). In a healthy brain, PAK and FMRP - the protein product of fmr1 - antagonize one another to regulate spine number and shape. Inhibition of PAK with a strategy utilizing mouse genetics reverses spine abnormalities as well as cognitive and behavioral symptoms in fmr1 KO mice, as we demonstrated in our previous publication. This discovery highlights PAK as a potential target for drug discovery research. In this thesis work, we build on this finding to test whether the small molecule FRAX486 - selected for its ability to inhibit PAK - can rescue behavioral, morphological, and physiological phenotypes in fmr1 KO mice. Our results demonstrate that seizures and behavioral abnormalities such as hyperactivity, repetitive movements, and habituation to a novel environment can all be rescued by FRAX486. Moreover, FRAX486 reverses spine phenotypes in adult mice, thereby supporting the hypothesis that a drug treatment which reverses the spine abnormalities can also treat neurological and behavioral symptoms.


2. mTOR

In spite of its noted toxicity, Rapamycin, is about to be tested in a clinical trial on a rare type of autism called TSC:-



Funnily enough the trial is taking place at the Kennedy Krieger Institute.

When commenting on the use of Bumetanide for autism, I recall the President of the Institute was quoted as saying:-


"So many things cure cancer in mice and rats, and so many things cure all kinds of things and then when we give them to humans they have adverse effects and don't fix the problems we thought they could fix," says Gary Goldstein, president and CEO of the Kennedy Krieger Institute, a Baltimore-based clinic and research center. "I wouldn't give it to my child, I can tell you that."

I found it a little odd that he gave the green light to trialing Rapamycin in children, given the long list of very nasty side effects.

  
3.  NrCAM 

Manesslab at UNC is clearly the centre for research into finding therapeutic agents surrounding NrCAM.  It looks like this is still some way from trials in humans.

“Too many spines and too many excitatory connections that are not pruned between early childhood and adolescence could be one of the chief problems underlying autism. Our goal is to understand the molecular mechanisms involved in pruning and find promising targets for therapeutic agents.”



Conclusion

It should not be surprising that multiple pathways may have the same therapeutic benefit on dendritic spines.  We only need one to be safe and effective.

The link back to human growth factors is interesting since we know these are disturbed in autism and other mental conditions, but the dysfunction varies by sub-type.  In fact, Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) would likely be an effective therapy for dementia and perhaps even Retts syndrome.

In the next post we will learn some more interesting things about growth factor anomalies in autism.  It turns out that something called Akt, also known as protein kinase B (PKB), may be behind them all. A related protein called protein kinase C (PKC), is known to affect the morphology of dendritic spines. There is also protein kinase A (PKA).  Both PKA and PKB have been shown to have reduced activity in regressive autism, this will also be covered later.