Showing posts with label Porges. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Porges. Show all posts

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The Vagus Nerve and Autism

It is good to know that there are some brilliant minds out there, willing to cross disciplines.  A case in point is Professor Stephen Porges, a neuroscientist with particular interests in understanding the neurobiology of social behavior.  He is a Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and the Director of the Brain-Body Center in the College of Medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  He has an equally clever wife who is a world leader in the role of neuropeptides oxytocin and vasopressin in social cognition.
You would want to think twice before inviting this couple round for dinner, unless you had spent the day before boning up on your science. 

Porges is best known for his Polyvagal Theory.  The Wikipedia article does not really do justice to the theory.  Here are two highly cited papers:-

He has only written one paper on autism, it is certainly not a light read but it shows a brilliant mind.

This paper is actually a chapter in a book and can be accessed via Google Books.

His paper explains odd autistic behaviours in terms of the functioning of the vagus nerve.  For example, the neural mechanism for making eye contact is shared with those needed to listen to the human voice.  So if you struggle to make eye contact, you will struggle to listen to what somebody is saying to you.  We can infer that if your ABA program trains you to make eye contact, you will likely become a better listener in the process.  Also, don’t talk to somebody unless you are facing them.
He comments on the regulation of the gut, the vagus and the immune system, vagal regulation of the HPA axis, all with reference to ASD.

Having read his paper you really will need no more convincing to go tune up your child’s vagus nerve. 

Tuning up the Vagus Nerve
Unlike Professor Porges, I like to simplify things so you do not read them more than once.  Clearly Kevin Tracey and Porges are the experts on the vagus nerve, but they do not go as far as telling you what you really want to know – how to improve its function using today's technology.  Fortunately, there is plenty of research on the Cholinergic System, of which the vagus nerve is part.  The following paper is a good example:-

You may recall from my earlier post Biomarkers in Autism: The Cholinergic system, that there are two types of cholinergeric receptors, nicotinic and muscarinic.  This paper is telling us how in autism these receptors are fewer in number than normal and the ones that are there, are not working (binding) as they should.
So this goes some way to perhaps explain why so many odd behaviours can be tracked back to the autistic vagus nerve; it is damaged.

In his paper, Porges is basically telling you to go try a vagus nerve stimulator, of the kind that already exists for epilepsy (see photo above) and Kevin Tracey is developing for arthritis (another inflammatory condition).  Right now this is not very feasible, but chemical stimulation of the vagus nerve does not look beyond the wit of man, using currently available technology.