Showing posts with label Testosterone. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Testosterone. Show all posts

Thursday, 8 February 2018

DHED, delivering Estradiol only to the Brain, also Lupron and Spironolactone

The Hungarian flag, for clever Laszlo Prokai


Lupron – partially right, but for the wrong reason? 

In the US there undoubtedly are some quack therapies for autism, however on occasion we have seen that you can stumble upon an effective therapy for entirely the wrong reason. In the history of medicine there are drugs that were stumbled upon, or created by accident.
In the case of the “Lupron protocol” which was promoted by a father and son (Geier and Geier), an extremely expensive therapy was apparently applied to hundreds of children, before being shut down by the medical regulators.
Without going into all the details, Geier’s therapy combined chelation (antioxidants) and a drug called Lupron that causes a dramatic reduction in testosterone levels.  In the jargon, it causes hypogonadism - diminished functional activity of the gonads (the testes in males or the ovaries in females). Lupron is another of those drugs that costs ten times more in the US than in the normal world. So a single injection of Lupron, depending on the dose,  costs up to $1000 in the US. Lupron is approved for use in children, male and female, with early onset puberty.
The case attracted media attention because Geier was also heavily involved in the idea that vaccines could cause autism and because patients were reportedly paying up to $50,000 for the complete therapy.
Geier was naturally a target for the anti-quack movement and why treat autism at all movements. He features in their books and blogs. 

Autism's False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure  (no link provided on purpose)

Still making the news in 2018.

Regulators who targeted controversial autism doctor may pay millions for humiliating him 

In this case I think Geier stumbled upon a rather extreme, partially effective therapy but for the wrong reason. I doubt such an expensive  potent drug is needed to produce the same beneficial effect, in that sub-group that appear to respond.

The fact that Lupron is so expensive in the US, may indeed contribute to the desire parents had for it.  There is a term in economics called a “Giffen good”; it is for the type of good that the more it costs the more you want it, like those very expensive hand bags people buy.

Personally I like inexpensive autism therapies, available to all.

Having read so much about autism, I am much less critical of those putting forward alternative ideas and therapies. It is very easy to get something right for entirely the wrong reason in medicine, which is something that is highly unlikely in many areas of science.

What I do not like is the predatory nature of some people with unusual ideas and therapies who treat autism. This is almost exclusively a North American phenomenon. Some parents will pay nothing to treat autism, for example some in countries with socialized medicine, while others would sell their house for a hope of an improvement.

The name Geier comes from the German word for vulture, maybe not the ideal surname for a healthcare worker.

If you read the following article from the Baltimore Sun you will see that there likely were some responders to this therapy:-

Lupron therapy for autism at center of embattled doctor's case 

"Wessels, who lives in Rock Rapids, Iowa, took Sam to see Geier in his Indianapolis office two years ago. She said there were months of genetic and hormone tests, and then the diagnosis. She began injecting Sam with Lupron daily.
She said the diagnosis made sense to her. Sam was not only having trouble communicating and difficulty learning, but he was tall for his age, had hair on his legs and began constantly masturbating by the time he was 5.
She said there was no "wow" moment where Sam snapped out of his autism, a spectrum of disorders where sufferers lack an ability to communicate and interact properly. But in the course of the next year, Sam's reading improved from 35 words a minute to 85 and he focused in class. He stopped masturbating as much.
Wessels thought Sam was naturally advancing and planned to taper the Lupron at some point — at 9, he had reached the generally accepted age limit for a precocious puberty label.
The day came abruptly four months ago when a nationwide shortage cut off Sam's supply. Wessels said she saw Sam return to his old habits, from flapping his hands, to pacing, to forgetting how to get to his classes.
"I felt like I got a glimpse of the child my son was meant to be, not the one autism gave me," said Wessels, fighting back tears. "It's so sad to watch your child fade away again."

Lupron and RORalpha

Regular readers of this blog may have noticed an entirely different reason Lupron might be beneficial in a sub-group of people with autism. It has nothing to do with vaccines and mercury-containing thimerosal preservative.

Reducing testosterone in boys is going to have effects like increasing estradiol.

The schematic illustrates a mechanism through which the observed reduction in RORA in autistic brain may lead to increased testosterone levels through downregulation of aromatase. Through AR, testosterone negatively modulates RORA, whereas estrogen upregulates RORA through ER. 

androgen receptor = AR 
estrogen receptor = ER 

We have seen that RORA is suggested to act like a central point/nexus that affects dozens of biological processes disturbed in autism, making it a key target for therapy.

Other drugs that affect androgen receptors and are suggested in some autism?

Are there any other alternative autism therapies that affect testosterone and so androgen receptors? The answer is yes; this time a very cheap one called Spironolactone, that has been mentioned earlier in this blog.
The MAPS doctor known to some readers of this blog, Dr Rossignol, was one of the coauthors with the late Dr Bradstreet, in a hypothesis regarding Spironolactone.

Spironolactone is a potassium sparing diuretic, but also has the effect of shifting the balance between testosterone/estradiol towards estradiol, this makes it a useful therapy to treat acne for which it is sometimes prescribed. It seems to help some with autism.

I think any drug/supplement suggested to affect RORA in the right direction, will likely be reported to also improve acne, even if that sounds rather odd. If it does not improve acne, it lacks potency. Not all acne remedies will affect RORA.
In fact there are numerous ways to affect testosterone and estradiol and they are well documented on the internet because of all the males who are trying to become females (the transgender community).
Donald Trump and his personal physician declared they take a small daily dose of the drug finasteride, which is why both of them have such a full head of hair, and why Trump can brag about his low PSA result. This drug is used to treat an enlarged prostate and at a lower dosage, hair loss.  It works by decreasing the production of dihydrotestosterone (DHT), an androgen sex hormone, in certain parts of the body like the prostate gland and the scalp. 
Lupron might be too expensive in the US for males becoming females, but the other testosterone/estradiol modifying drugs seem to be very widely used/abused, depending on your views.

“Normal” levels of male/female hormones  
One criticism of Geier was that while he did many different tests to measure testosterone in his patients, he seemed over willing to prescribe his highly potent testosterone reducing drug. It was reportedly not the case that he only used Lupron on patients with extremely elevated levels of testosterone.
In fact what are normal levels of male/female hormones?
There does not seem to be a normal level, rather a very wide range. the charts below are in adults.

Serum total T (A) and bioavailable T (B) levels as a function of age among an age-stratified sample of Rochester men (solid lines, squares) and women (dashed lines, circles).

Serum total estrogen (A) and bioavailable estrogen (B) levels as a function of age among an age-stratified sample of Rochester men (solid lines, squares) and women (dashed lines, circles).

Affecting Testosterone/Estradiol Just in the Brain
I do sometimes receive comments asking about possible future autism drugs in the pipeline, I even once had a section called “Future Drugs”. Things move so slowly I now really only focus on repurposing what is already available.
However, a really interesting new drug, DHED, is being developed to increase the level of the hormone estradiol just in the brain. Now as regular readers will know, in autism there is a lack of estradiol and a reduction in the expression of estrogen receptor beta. We know that estradiol is highly neuroprotective and that estrogen receptors in the brain modulate RORa, which is one of those switches that control a large group of genes often disturbed in autism. So a new drug developed to help post-menopausal women has potential to be repurposed to treat neurological disorders like autism and indeed Alzheimer’s. 
Interestingly for me is that the lead researcher, a Hungarian called Laszlo Prokai, also researches another hormone, TRH, that I wrote about extensively a long ago in this blog. TRH is potentially another very useful therapy inside the brain.  
Thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH), is a releasing hormone, produced by the hypothalamus, that stimulates the release of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and prolactin from the anterior pituitary.  Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) then goes on to stimulate the thyroid gland to produce thyroxine (T4), and then triiodothyronine (T3) which stimulates the metabolism of almost every tissue in the body.
As I discovered a few years ago, TRH does much more within the brain, as a result it has antiepileptic properties and mood enhancing properties. The US Army is funding the development of a TRH nasal spray for ex-combatants with mood disorders and a risk of suicide. Antidepressants like Prozac have the odd side effect of increasing suicidal tendencies.
A TRH super-agonist (Ceredist) already exists in Japan, so I could never really understand why the US Army did not just get that drug approved by the FDA.  

More Laszlos please
The big gap in all neurological disorders is translational research, which means actually converting all the existing knowledge into usable therapies for humans.
So it looks like we need more people like Laszlo; in fact there is another - Katalin Prokai-Tatrai, I assume it is his wife.
So like we already have the very talented duo Chauhan & Chauhan, we have Prokai & Prokai. What we would ideally want is Prokai & Prokai to translate the knowledge of Chauhan & Chauhan into human therapies.
As described in one of their papers:
Our laboratory has been involved in medicinal chemistry-driven research with attention to facilitating drug delivery of central nervous system (CNS) agents via prodrug approaches.

This is important because there are clever drugs that would be useful to treat brain disorders but you cannot get them through the blood brain barrier (BBB). So making a new compound that can cross the BBB and then converts back to the original drug is a neat solution. 

Dr. Prokai's current research focuses on
(1) Novel therapies against neurodegenerative and ophthalmic diseases using site-selective prodrugs
(2) Development and use of proteomics in aging research, studying neurodegenerative diseases and cancer, with especial attention to quantitative expression profiling and oxidative stress-associated posttranslational modifications
(3) Discovering new therapeutic agents based on neuropeptides and peptidomimetics as lead molecules.

In particular:
·         Molecular mechanisms of estrogen neuroprotection

·         Molecular pharmacology of thyrotropin-releasing hormone

“10β,17β-Dihydroxyestra-1,4-dien-3-one (DHED) is an orally active, centrally selective estrogen and a biosynthetic prodrug of estradiol which was discovered by Laszlo Prokai and colleagues. Upon systemic administration, regardless of route of administration, DHED has been found to selectively and rapidly convert into estradiol in the brain, whereas no such conversion occurs in the rest of the body. Moreover, DHED itself possesses no estrogenic activity, requiring transformation into estradiol for its estrogenicity. As such, the drug shows selective estrogenic effects in the brain (e.g., alleviation of hot flashes, neuroprotection) that are said to be identical to those of estradiol, whereas it does not produce estrogenic effects elsewhere in the body.  DHED has been proposed as a possible novel estrogenic treatment for neurological and psychiatric conditions associated with hypoestrogenism (e.g., menopausal hot flashes, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer's disease, and stroke) which uniquely lacks potentially detrimental estrogenic side effects in the periphery


·         Treatment with 10β,17β-dihydroxyestra-1,4-dien-3-one (DHED), a brain-selective prodrug of 17β-estradiol, for 8 weeks decreased amyloid precursor protein in APPswe/PS1dE9 double-transgenic mice
·         DHED treatment reduced brain amyloid-β peptide levels
·         DHED-treated APPswe/PS1dE9 double-transgenic mice had higher cognitive performance compared to untreated control animals
·         DHED treatment faithfully replicated positive neurobiochemical effects and consequent behavioral improvement observed for 17β-estradiol
·         DHED did not stimulate uterine tissue, whereas 17β-estradiol treatment did.  

By the same author Laszlo Prokai: 

Design and Exploratory Neuropharmacological Evaluation of Novel Thyrotropin-Releasing Hormone Analogs and Their Brain-Targeting Bioprecursor Prodrugs

Medicinal Chemistry: Compound could lead to estrogen therapies with fewer side effects

Estrogen levels drop in the brains of women who have gone through menopause or had surgeries to remove their ovaries. This hormone deficiency can lead to hot flashes, depression, trouble sleeping, and memory deficits. Hormone replacement therapies can improve women’s quality of life, but taking estrogen has its own problems, such as increased risk of breast and uterine cancer.

A new compound could avoid the source of these side effects—the action of estrogen on cells outside the.

Laszlo Prokai of the University of North Texas Health Science Center and coworkers identified 10β,17β-dihydroxyestra-1,4-dien-3-one (DHED), which is converted to the main human estrogen, 17β-estradiol, in the brain and not elsewhere in the body. An enzyme expressed only in the brain reduces DHED to estradiol.

The researchers injected DHED into female rodents without ovaries and showed that estrogen levels jumped in the brain but not in other tissues. Then, through a series of experiments, they demonstrated that the compound had only neurological effects.

“It’s exactly the right strategy for avoiding the cancer risks and gaining the benefits in the brain,” says Bruce S. McEwen, a neuroendocrinologist at Rockefeller University. He thinks the next step is to show that the compound doesn’t have toxicity problems so that clinical trials in people can start.  The researchers are planning such studies in hopes of moving the compound “from the bench to the bedside,” Prokai says.

Why is Estradiol good for your brain?
You may be wondering why I give so much time on this blog to female hormones. There is a lot of evidence beyond RORa, that estrogen/estradiol and its receptors are very important to healthy brain function. 
The paper below is very interesting and worth a read. 

Sex hormones, particularly estrogens, possess potent antioxidant properties and play important roles in maintaining normal reproductive and non-reproductive functions. They exert neuroprotective actions and their loss during aging and natural or surgical menopause is associated with mitochondrial dysfunction, neuroinflammation, synaptic decline, cognitive impairment and increased risk of age-related disorders. Moreover, loss of sex hormones has been suggested to promote an accelerated aging phenotype eventually leading to the development of brain hypometabolism, a feature often observed in menopausal women and prodromal Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Although data on the relation between sex hormones and DNA repair mechanisms in the brain is still limited, various investigations have linked sex hormone levels with different DNA repair enzymes. Here, we review estrogen anti-aging and neuroprotective mechanisms, which are currently an area of intense study, together with the effect they may have on the DNA repair capacity in the brain. 
However, estrogen actions on mitochondria are not exclusively related to such mechanism. Estrogen also regulates mitochondrial functions through their classical nuclear mechanism, i.e., transcriptional regulation of nuclear-encoded mitochondrial proteins. It is known that estrogen regulates the nuclear transcription of different proteins affecting mitochondrial function such as nuclear respiratory factor-1 (NRF-1) and peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-gamma coactivator 1 (PCG-1). Hence, this regulation is critical for the activation of nuclear genes encoding proteins involved in mitochondrial biogenesis as well as in the mitochondrial electron transport chain complexes. It also regulates the transcription of mitochondrial transcription factor A (TFAM), which translocates into mitochondria and initiates transcription and replication of mtDNA

Note PCG-1 above, (a typo for PGC-1, I believe) for all those interested in treating mitochondrial dysfunction.  We saw previously that PGC-1α is a master regulator of mitochondrial biogenesis.
It turns out that Estrogen is key to many aspects of Mitochondria, and the paper  below from 2017 probably deserves its own post. Lack of estrogen or miss-expression of estrogen receptors in the brain is inevitably going to disrupt mitochondrial function.

Estrogens coordinate and integrate cellular metabolism and mitochondrial activities by direct and indirect mechanisms mediated by differential expression and localization of estrogen receptors (ER) in a cell-specific manner. Estrogens regulate transcription and cell signaling pathways that converge to stimulate mitochondrial function- including mitochondrial bioenergetics, mitochondrial fusion and fission, calcium homeostasis, and antioxidant defense against free radicals. Estrogens regulate nuclear gene transcription by binding and activating the classical genomic estrogen receptors α and β (ERα and ERβ) and by activating plasma membrane-associated mERα, mERβ, and G-protein coupled ER (GPER, GPER1). Localization of ERα and ERβ within mitochondria and in the mitochondrial membrane provides additional mechanisms of regulation. Here we review the mechanisms of rapid and longer-term effects of estrogens and selective ER modulators (SERMs, e.g., tamoxifen (TAM)) on mitochondrial biogenesis, morphology, and function including regulation of Nuclear Respiratory Factor-1 (NRF-1, NRF1) transcription. NRF-1 is a nuclear transcription factor that promotes transcription of mitochondrial transcription factor TFAM (mtDNA maintenance factorFA) which then regulates mtDNA-encoded genes. The nuclear effects of estrogens on gene expression directly controlling mitochondrial biogenesis, oxygen consumption, mtDNA transcription, and apoptosis are reviewed. 
Estrogens exert direct and indirect effects on mitochondrial function in a cell-specific manner through activation of membrane-initiated ERα, ER β, and GPER activity and by direct genomic binding of ERα and ERβ to regulate nuclear gene transcription. While still controversial, estrogens also activate mitochondrial localized ERα and ERβ in a celltype-dependent manner. One key nuclear gene increased by E2 is NRF-1 that regulates the transcription of nuclearencoded mitochondrial genes, including TFAM which increases transcription of mtDNA-encoded genes. Thus, E2 coordinates nuclear and mitochondrial gene transcription via NRF-1. Activation of UPRmt also activates ERα and increases NRF-1. E2 also regulates the transcription of genes regulating mitochondrial morphology, enzymes in the TCA cycle and OXPHOS pathways, and mitochondrial protein Snitrosylation. Depending on the cell type, E2 regulates mitochondrial biogenesis and bioenergetic function.   

17β-estradiol is not only a reproductive hormone that is important only in women but it is also of immense importance for development and health in men. Although there is strong evidence from both human and animal studies that estrogen is protective in various brain diseases however, its adverse effect in classic target tissues such as uterus (17β-estradiol behaves as a full agonist on both estrogen receptor (ER) isoforms) is a matter of debate. ER subtype selective ligands are valuable tools for deciphering the specific roles of ER (α and β) in physiology and diseases. These compounds have a strong potential for development as therapeutics as these initiate estrogen signaling in brain but lack the mitogenic effects in other tissues such as ovaries and breast. Moreover, the existing and newer ERsubtype selective agonists will continue to be very valuable tool for deciphering the specific roles of ERα and ERβ 

Severity of symptoms of schizophrenia is greater in males as compared to premenopausal females. Women have been shown to differ in symptom severity depending on the phase of the menstrual cycle. Higher rates of relapse in women with schizophrenia are also observed during the postpartum period (low estrogens), whereas relapse is low during pregnancy (high estrogens). During menopause, women are at risk of developing a new schizophrenic illness. Additionally, premenopausal women appear to have a superior response to typical antipsychotics compared to men and postmenopausal women. Estrogen plays a protective role in women with schizophrenia. Estrogen treatment may reduce negative symptoms in schizophrenic women. Estradiol may exert neuroprotection by several mechanism that may even vary among different brain regions.

Non drug therapies:-
Overeating and smoking will increase your level of estrogen. We saw earlier that in males testosterone is converted to estradiol in fat tissue. 

Not to forget the other part of the Mediterranean Diet:-

Just as we saw that using high doses of antioxidants is beneficial in numerous medical conditions, where nobody calls it chelation, drugs that reduce testosterone or increase estradiol in the brain are not quack therapies, even when proposed by apparent vultures. It pays to keep an open mind.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is a big business and if you can introduce a drug with less side effects, it should sell at a premium price, meaning DHED really should get commercialized.
DHED should be more effective than estradiol for treating neurological disorders because it can be given at a higher dose. In males there is no risk of feminization.
Contrary to what is sometimes quoted, estradiol lowers the risk of prostate cancer and is used to treat aggressive forms of it. High levels of testosterone are linked to prostate cancer and that is why Lupron is sometimes used.
Circulating levels of estradiol vary dramatically. People with a low level of estradiol might well be able to safely increase body-wide 17β-estradiol, rather than waiting a decade for DHED.
High levels of estrogen/estradiol in males may contribute to the extended healthy life expectancy in those with a soy-rich diet, as we will see in the forthcoming post on the Okinawan Diet and aging.

Spironolactone does have the advantage of increasing potassium levels, so someone with autism who responds to bumetanide and has high testosterone/ low estradiol and/or reduced expression of ERβ might see a benefit; I think it might require a high dose.
DHED looks interesting particularly for those with higher plasma estradiol but reduced ERβ in the brain.
I think the lady from Rock Rapids, Iowa in the earlier press report on Lupron, whose son had very hairy legs and responded to Lupron, should try some estradiol, or just get him to drink a great deal of soy milk.  This really should have a similar kind of effect.
It appears that some mitochondrial disease is linked to estradiol and estrogen receptors ERα and ERβ. DHED might be a very clever treatment to what is otherwise pretty much un-curable. So there will be a post on estrogens regulating life and death in mitochondria.
The implication is pretty simple – more estrogen/estradiol please, if you want to live a bit longer, or if your brain does not work so well.

Saturday, 16 December 2017

Turner Syndrome, Estradiol and Autism-lessons from the X Chromosome

This post is best read if you have reviewed the earlier ones regarding the estradiol/testosterone disturbances in autism and how they govern the RORα “switch” that then triggers a torrent of other dysfunctions. So the hormonal disturbance, if present, is a key point at which to make a potent intervention. 

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

In the mass media it is now popular to dismiss the fact that autism is far more prevalent on boys than girls. In the scientific literature, fortunately, they stick to the facts and much is written about the sex differences in autism.
As we have seen in earlier posts, females have some natural defences against autism. They have two X chromosomes and of course they have those all-important neuroprotective female hormones (estrogen/estradiol, progesterone etc.). In effect, the more female you are, the more protection you have against idiopathic autism and any X-chromosome linked single gene autism. So a girl with Fragile-X syndrome is likely to be far less affected than her brother with same condition.
Recall that we all have 23 pairs of chromosomes and that the 23rd set contains two Xs in girls and in boys one X and one Y. The girls’ “spare” X chromosome is also what gives them their feminine features.  

It is interesting to look what happens to females who lack part of their second set of X- chromosomes. This diagnosis is called Turner Syndrome. As you might have guessed people with Turner Syndrome have much lower levels of female hormones and a higher incidence of autism, although some people find this controversial. The autism-like characteristics of TS include:-

·      Impairments in social functioning

·      Impairments in face and emotion processing

·      Spatial executive deficits

·      Poor social coping skills and increased immaturity

·      Hyperactivity and impulsivity

Turner syndrome occurs in 50 per 100,000 live-born females. Autism occurs about ten times for frequently, so about 500 per 100,000 live-born females.  Turner syndrome provides the extreme case of what happens when females have too little estrogen/estradiol.
I think you will find a large group of females with idiopathic autism (no identified genetic defects) have/had low levels of estradiol. I think this is the reason that facial recognition studies show that some females with idiopathic autism look different, (as do many boys, of course). We already know that most single gene types of autism produce tell-tale signs, often on the face (big ears, wide face, big/small head etc).

I am not suggesting that there is anything wrong with looking different; rather it may be a useful diagnostic tool and not an expensive or invasive one. Physical variation has long been used to identify genetic syndromes, before genetic testing became widely available.

Physical variation inside your head
We saw in an earlier post that MRI scans of the autistic brains actually do often show subtle differences, particularly when you use software to read them, rather than the naked eye. Traditionally doctors say that MRIs are “normal” in autism and cannot be used to diagnose it. Yet in a recent studies machine reading of MRIs was able to identify 70%-96% of autism cases.  Some of these are scans taken before birth.

This is interesting, because ultimately you might bypass the current very slow and subjective observational diagnosis process.

MRIs show a brain anomaly in nearly 70 percent of babies at high risk of developing the condition who go on to be diagnosed, laying the groundwork for a predictive aid for pediatricians and the search for a potential treatment

Predicting the future with brain imaging

In a new study, Emerson et al. show that brain function in infancy can be used to accurately predict which high-risk infants will later receive an autism diagnosis. Using machine learning techniques that identify patterns in the brain’s functional connections, Emerson and colleagues were able to predict with greater than 96% accuracy whether a 6-month-old infant would develop autism at 24 months of age. These findings must be replicated, but they represent an important step toward the early identification of individuals with autism before its characteristic symptoms develop.

MRI scanners are very widely used, but you do have to keep very still inside when they are in operation. The even harder part is the reading of the data. It is clear that some standardized machine reading (A/I artificial intelligence) process is required to notice every possible variation. You could have a centralized location where you just submit your MRI data, the center gets to keep the data and learn from it; and you get their insight as to what differences there might be.

Facial Differences vs MRI Brain Differences
I like to keep things simple and under my control.  In the short term we have to settle for facial differences, since any well-managed MRI process will be decades away.

Hormonal Variation in Autism
Hormonal differences were one of the key areas I identified years ago in this blog. Big/small heads result from disturbances in pro-growth signalling pathways. We should expect variations in bone-age, early/late onset of puberty and indeed big variations in height and weight.

In Turner Syndrome, the girls tend to be very short and they are often treated with growth hormones, as well as female/feminizing hormones.  
Great caution has to be taken when treating children with any hormones. When children are treated, it is for serious reasons like not achieving puberty, or having a serious growth delay (being very short).

Hormone Therapy During Pregnancy
In some countries hormones are given during pregnancy although I think this would be seen as odd/risky in some advanced countries.

We have already seen that couples who have difficulty producing a child often have a family history that includes autism. It was proposed by one serious fertility expert that what helps prevent miscarriage also helps prevent autism. This did sound odd when I first read about, but when you look in more depth there is a basis for this idea.
That expert has these two websites:-

Progesterone supplements have been recommended for more than 50 years for women struggling with infertility, but research now shows they can also help prevent miscarriage.

Tamoxifen, an estrogen receptor (ER) antagonist, is also used to treat infertility.
Estradiol is sometimes prescribed during pregnancy.
Testosterone is produced naturally during pregnancy.

All this is clearly beyond the scope of this blog, but perhaps altered female/male hormones during pregnancy might be a biomarker of some future autism and female hormones might be a protective therapy in the subgroup of pregnant mothers with low levels of these hormones and/or high levels of testosterone. Recall that human trials in the hospital ER have shown certain substances are highly neuroprotective (progesterone, atorvastatin etc) and when administered immediately after a traumatic brain injury markedly improve the outcome.                                         

Hormone Therapy for Autism
Hormone therapy in people with autism would be controversial, but we saw in an earlier post that via RORα the balance between testosterone and estradiol affects numerous biological relevant to autism.

Many pictures of girls/women with autism, that you can view online, suggest reduced levels of estradiol. Faces look more boy-like. Many males with autism are reported to have physical features of high testosterone and low estradiol. 
One example of many:-

Both faces in the above article show clear indications of autism. Since both young people do have autism, this should not surprise anyone.
My own conclusion is that if you have autism or Asperger’s, a little extra estradiol could therapeutic, particularly if you have physical features that reinforce this.
There are of course many males and females with autism who are physically indistinguishable from the rest of the world. The point of this post is to highlight that visible differences may help to define the sub-type of autism and indicate possibly effective therapies, that exist today.

Obesity and Estradiol
In an earlier post on estradiol, I pointed out that in males estradiol is made in your adipose (fat) tissue. In the US many people with autism are overweight, in part due to side effects from their likely un-needed psychiatric medications; this has the hidden benefit of increasing their estradiol levels, feminizing their behavior slightly and shifting RORalpha in the right direction.
This also means that losing weight should be helpful to obese females with estrogen receptor positive breast cancer.  Research does support this.

Asperger’s and too much Estradiol?
We saw in earlier posts that much autism is associated with reduced expression of estrogen receptor beta and low aromatase, so high testosterone and low estradiol.

We have seen on many occasions that when one extreme exists in autism, so usually does the other; so many big heads, but also some tiny ones, NMDAR hypofunction, but also hyperfunction.

There was a lot of talk a while back in the media about children undergoing therapy to change their gender, and it was highlighted that Asperger’s was much over-represented in this group. One expert got into trouble for suggesting that their autism was causing them to obsess about their identity and so mistakenly convince a boy that he would rather be a girl.  It seems that these days some clinicians are then all too willing to provide drug therapy and then operate on them, to make them female.  I do wonder if perhaps some of these boys with Asperger’s might have the other extreme of aromatise. That would give them too little testosterone and too much Estradiol.
I think measuring these hormones is quite a good idea, as I keep repeating, they go on to affect the critical “switch”  RORα, which then impacts a large number of biological processes implicated in autism.  In other words you can try to normalize a wide range of important autism variables, just be tweaking RORα, via estradiol/testosterone.

A boy with high testosterone, and so low estradiol, will likely exhibit physical signs of this, just like the girl with low estradiol. These are just pieces of the puzzle, in plain view, that can be used to understand each specific case of autism. And no machine reading of an MRI is required.

For those left wanting more:
A very thorough paper on Turner Syndrome:-

Turner syndrome (TS) is a neurogenetic disorder characterized by partial or complete monosomy-X. TS is associated with certain physical and medical features including estrogen deficiency, short stature and increased risk for several diseases with cardiac conditions being among the most serious. Girls with TS are typically treated with growth hormone and estrogen replacement therapies to address short stature and estrogen deficiency. The cognitive-behavioral phenotype associated with TS includes strengths in verbal domains with impairments in visual-spatial, executive function and emotion processing. Genetic analyses have identified the short stature homeobox (SHOX) gene as being a candidate gene for short stature and other skeletal abnormalities associated with TS but currently the gene or genes associated with cognitive impairments remain unknown. However, significant progress has been made in describing neurodevelopmental and neurobiologic factors underlying these impairments and potential interventions are on the horizon

We utilized an ultrasensitive assay to study estradiol levels in 34 girls with TS and 34 normal age-matched prepubertal girls between the ages of 5 and 12 years. The average estradiol level in the girls with TS (6.4 +/- 4.9 pmol/l estradiol equivalents) was significantly lower than in the normal prepubertal girls (12.7 +/- 10.8 pmol/l estradiol equivalents; p < 0.01). Girls with TS were significantly shorter, and weighed less than the normal prepubertal girls, as expected. The estradiol level was not significantly correlated with height, bone age, 


Saturday, 3 June 2017

Connecting Estradiol with WNK, SPAK and OSR1; plus Taurine

Japan, home to today’s complicated research

Today’s post hopes to give a more complete picture of the various processes involved in shifting the immature neurons often found in autism towards the mature neurons, found in most people.  This stalled process is complex and may only apply to around half of all autism.
The post assumes prior knowledge from previous posts about the GABA switch and the KCC2 and NKCC1 chloride cotransporters.
The best graphic I found is below and includes almost everything. The paper itself is very thorough and I recommend the scientists among you read the paper rather than my post.
What we want to understand is why neurons did not switch from immature to mature, in the process I am calling the “GABA switch”.  We know a great deal about what happens before and after the switch and many processes that can be  involved, but the exact switch itself remains undefined.
In a previous post I highlighted that neuroligin 2 (NL2)/RORa may be the GABA switch, but there is no mention of neuroligins in the research reviewed today. 

So when you read today’s mainly Japanese research, you should note that one key part is missing, the actual trigger mechanism.

The ideal way to make neurons transition from immature to mature is the way nature intended. That requires an understanding of the GABA switch mechanism.

Source and excellent paper:-

 The important things you might not notice:

E is the female hormone estrogen/estradiol

T is testosterone. Testosterone can be converted to estradiol by aromatase.

DHT is another male hormone Dihydrotestosterone. DHT is synthesized from testosterone by the enzyme 5α-reductase. In males, approximately 5% of testosterone undergoes 5α-reduction into DHT. DHT cannot be converted into estrogen.

Relative to testosterone, DHT is considerably more potent as an agonist of the androgen receptor (AR). This may turn out to be very important.

T3 is the active thyroid hormone, triiodothyronine

In earlier posts we saw that in autism there can be a lack of aromatase and that there is reduced expression of estrogen receptor beta.
In the diagram below this leads to reduced estrogen and increased testosterone. If there is elevated DHT this will make the situation worse.  All this down-regulates ROR-alpha.
ROR-alpha affects numerous things and is another nexus which links biological processes that have gone awry in autism. By upregulating ROR-alpha multiple good effects may follow, these include increasing KCC2 and reducing NKCC1.
It is certainly possible that the GABA switch is mediated by RORa-estradiol-Neuoligin-2.  In which case the solution is to upregulate RORa which can be done in many ways (androgen receptor, estrogen receptors etc.)

The schematic illustrates a mechanism through which the observed reduction in RORA in autistic brain may lead to increased testosterone levels through downregulation of aromatase. Through AR, testosterone negatively modulates RORA, whereas estrogen upregulates RORA through ER.

androgen receptor = AR

estrogen receptor = ER

Going back to the complex first chart in this post, we want to increase KCC2 in the immature neuron and reduce NKCC1.
So we want lines with flat end going into NKCC1, for example from OXT (the Oxytocin surge during natural birth).
We want arrows going to KCC2, for example we want more PKC (Protein Kinase C) coming from those  mGluRs, that we have come across many times in this blog.
What we do not want is anything coming from WNK- SPAK- OSR1.
Reduced expression of the thyroid hormone T3 does affect the both KCC2 and NKCC1 expression the brain. One of my earlier posts did suggest central hypothyroidism in autism, this fitted in with the findings of the Polish researcher at Harvard, who I had some correspondence with.

Oxidative Stress, Central Hypothyroidism, Autism and You   

Another transcription factor that has been identified as a potent regulator of KCC2 expression is upstream stimulating factor 1 (USF1) as well as USF2. The USF1 gene has been linked to familial combined hyperlipidemia. 
It is thought that increasing the expression of USF1 with increase KCC2, but it will increase other things as well.
We also know that Egr4 may be an important component in the mechanism for trophic factor-mediated upregulation of KCC2 protein in developing neurons.
Early Growth Response 4 (EGR-4) is a transcription factor that activates numerous other processes.
It is known that the growth factor Neurturin upregulates EGR4, but it does not cross the blood brain barrier. It was considered as a possible therapy for Parkinson’s Disease. In the first chart in this post, NRTN is Neurturin.

It turns out that EGR4 is redox sensitive. In other words certain types of oxidative stress should upregulate EGR4.
Recent studies have demonstrated that zinc controls KCC2 activity via a postsynaptic metabotropic zinc receptor/G protein-linked receptor 39 mZnR/GPR39. The levels of both synaptic Zn2+ and KCC2 are developmentally upregulated. During the postnatal period, synaptic Zn2+ accumulation and KCC2 expression reach levels similar to those in adult brain.  The zinc transporter 1 (ZnT-1), which is present in areas rich in synaptic zinc, is expressed from the first postnatal week in cortex, hippocampus, olfactory bulb. In the cerebellum, the expression of ZnT-1 in purkinje cells is increased during the second postnatal week.
We have seen that in autism there are anomalies with zinc; in effect it is in the wrong place. Perhaps there is a problem with the zinc transporter in some autism. Decreased ZnT-1 is associated with mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

The male/female hormones play a key role in KCC2/NKCC1, but estradiol/estrogen has a very complex role.
Estradiol can have paradoxical effects.  Its effects can also vary depending on whether you are male or female.

“the effects of estradiol on chloride cotransporters or GABAA signaling may depend upon the direction of GABAA responses”

In effect this may mean if GABA is working normally we get one effect on KCC2/NKCC1, but if it is working in reverse (bumetanide responders) we may see the opposite effect.
In the above chart estrogen is shown as increasing KCC2 mRNA in males (a good thing) but inhibiting KCC2 mRNA in females. Messenger RNA (mRNA) is one step in the process of producing the protein (KCC2) from its gene. So the more mRNA the better, if you want more of that protein.
Estrogen also has an effect on OSR1. As shown in this Japanese paper, estrogen is having the opposite effect to what we want; it is inhibiting KCC2 and stimulating NKCC1.
There is research specifically focused on the effect of estrogen on NKCC1 and KCC2. It looks like in some circumstances the effect is good, while in others it will be bad.
From the perspective I have from my posts on RORa, I am expecting a positive effect. I expect in bumetanide responders, estrogen/estradiol will increase KCC2 and reduce NKCC1 and so lower the level of chloride in neurons.
You can also easily argue that estrogen should be bad. What is clear is that inhibiting WNK, SPAK and OSR1 should all be good.  That then brings us to taurine and the start of the WNK-SPAK- OSR1 cascade.
As we have seen in previous posts,  TrkB (tyrosine receptor kinase B) a receptor for various growth factors including  brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), plays a role. In much autism BDNF is found to be elevated.
ERK is also called MAPK.  The MAPK/ERK pathway is best known in relation to (RAS/RAF-dependent) cancers. This RAS/RAF/ERK1/2 pathway is also known to be upregulated in autism.  In today’s case, ERK is just causing an increase in Early Growth Response 4 (EGR4).
Activating PKC looks a good idea.  It also is the mechanism in some other Japanese research I covered in an old post.  You may recall that in autism sometimes the GABAA receptors get physically dispersed and need to be brought back tightly together, otherwise they do not work properly.  This process required calcium to be released from the via IP3R to increase PKC.

Studies have indeed shown that PKC is reduced in some autism, which is what you might have expected. 
Finally, the other estradiol/estrogen papers:- 

In immature neurons the amino acid neurotransmitter, γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) provides the dominant mode for neuronal excitation by inducing membrane depolarization due to Cl efflux through GABAA receptors (GABAARs). The driving force for Cl is outward because the Na+-K+-2Cl cotransporter (NKCC1) elevates the Cl concentration in these cells. GABA-induced membrane depolarization and the resulting activation of voltage-gated Ca2+ channels is fundamental to normal brain development, yet the mechanisms that regulate depolarizing GABA are not well understood. The neurosteroid estradiol potently augments depolarizing GABA action in the immature hypothalamus by enhancing the activity of the NKCC1 cotransporter. Understanding how estradiol controls NKCC1 activity will be essential for a complete understanding of brain development. We now report that estradiol treatment of newborn rat pups significantly increases protein levels of two kinases upstream of the NKCC1 cotransporter, SPAK and OSR1. The estradiol-induced increase is transcription dependent, and its time course parallels that of estradiol-enhanced phosphorylation of NKCC1. Antisense oligonucleotide-mediated knockdown of SPAK, and to a lesser degree of OSR1, precludes estradiol-mediated enhancement of NKCC1 phosphorylation. Functionally, knockdown of SPAK or OSR1 in embryonic hypothalamic cultures diminishes estradiol-enhanced Ca2+ influx induced by GABAAR activation. Our data suggest that SPAK and OSR1 may be critical factors in the regulation of depolarizing GABA-mediated processes in the developing brain. It will be important to examine these kinases with respect to sex differences and developmental brain anomalies in future studies.
The ability of the brain to synthesize estradiol in discrete loci raises the specter of estrogens as widespread endogenous regulators of depolarizing GABA actions that broadly impact on brain development.

Disregulation in developmental excitatory GABAergic signaling has been shown to impair the development of neuronal circuits and may be a contributing factor in neurodevelopmental disorders such as epilepsy, autism spectrum disorders, and schizophrenia (Briggs and Galanopoulou, 2011; Pizzarelli and Cherubini, 2011; Hyde et al, 2011). Sex differences have been widely reported in all of these disorders, implicating a role for estradiol in their etiology. Targeting SPAK or OSR1 may allow for novel therapeutic options for these neural disorders.


GABAA receptors have an age-adapted function in the brain. During early development, they mediate depolarizing effects, which result in activation of calcium-sensitive signaling processes that are important for the differentiation of the brain. In more mature stages of development and in adults, GABAA receptors acquire their classical hyperpolarizing signaling. The switch from depolarizing to hyperpolarizing GABAA-ergic signaling is triggered through the developmental shift in the balance of chloride cotransporters that either increase (ie NKCC1) or decrease (ie KCC2) intracellular chloride. The maturation of GABAA signaling follows sex-specific patterns, which correlate with the developmental expression profiles of chloride cotransporters. This has first been demonstrated in the substantia nigra, where the switch occurs earlier in females than in males. As a result, there are sensitive periods during development when drugs or conditions that activate GABAA receptors mediate different transcriptional effects in males and females. Furthermore, neurons with depolarizing or hyperpolarizing GABAA-ergic signaling respond differently to neurotrophic factors like estrogens. Consequently, during sensitive developmental periods, GABAA receptors may act as broadcasters of sexually differentiating signals, promoting gender-appropriate brain development. This has particular implications in epilepsy, where both the pathophysiology and treatment of epileptic seizures involve GABAA receptor activation. It is important therefore to study separately the effects of these factors not only on the course of epilepsy but also design new treatments that may not necessarily disturb the gender-appropriate brain development.

1.3.2 GABAA receptor signaling as sex-specific modifier of estradiol effects

To further understand the mechanisms underlying the higher expression of KCC2 in the female SNR, we examined the in vivo regulation of KCC2 mRNA by gonadal hormones. As previously stated, the perinatal surge of testosterone in male rats is required for the masculinization of most studied sexually brain structures. Unlike humans, in rats, this is usually through the estrogenic derivatives of testosterone, produced through aromatization, and less often through the androgenic metabolites, like dihydrotestosterone (DHT) (Cooke et al. 1998). To determine whether KCC2 is regulated by gonadal hormones, the effects of systemic administration of testosterone, 17β-estradiol or DHT on KCC2 mRNA expression in PN15 SNR were studied (Galanopoulou and Moshé 2003). Testosterone and DHT increased KCC2 mRNA expression in both male and female PN15 SNR neurons. In contrast, 17β-estradiol decreased KCC2 mRNA in males but not in females. These effects were seen both after short (4 hours) or long periods (52 hours) of exposure to the hormones. However, they occurred only in neurons in which active GABAA-mediated depolarizations were operative (naïve male PN15 SNR neurons). Estradiol failed to downregulate KCC2 in neurons in which GABAA receptors or L-type voltage sensitive calcium channels (L-VSCCs) were blocked (bicuculline or nifedipine pretreated PN15 male rat SNR), and in those that had already hyperpolarizing GABAA signaling (female PN15 SNR neurons). This indicated that 17β-estradiol-mediated downregulation of certain calcium-regulated genes, like KCC2, shows a requirement for active GABAA-mediated activation of L-VSCCs (Galanopoulou and Moshé 2003). In agreement with this model, in vivo administration of 17β-estradiol decreased pCREB-ir in male but not in female PN15 SNR neurons (Galanopoulou 2006). The idea that the effects of estradiol on chloride cotransporters or GABAA signaling may depend upon the direction of GABAA responses is also reverberated in other publications. In hippocampal pyramidal neurons of adult ovariectomized female rats, where GABAA signaling is thought to be hyperpolarizing, 17β-estradiol had no effect on KCC2 expression (Nakamura et al. 2004). In contrast, in cultured neonatal hypothalamic neurons that still respond with muscimol-triggered calcium rises, thought to be due to the depolarizing effects of GABAA receptors, 17β-estradiol delays the period with excitatory GABAA signaling (Perrot-Sinal et al. 2001). However, a direct involvement of KCC2 in this process has not been demonstrated yet. Such findings indicate that GABAA signaling can not only augment the existing sex differences through pathways directly regulated by its own receptors, but can also interact indirectly and modify the effects of important neurotrophic and morphogenetic factors, like estradiol, at least in some neuronal types (Galanopoulou 2005; Galanopoulou 2006). It is possible that perinatal exposure to higher levels of the estrogenic metabolites produced by the testosterone surge in male pups could be one factor that maintains KCC2 expression lower in males. In agreement, daily administration of 17β-estradiol in neonatal female rat pups, during the first 5 days of life, reduces KCC2 mRNA at postnatal day 15. This does not occur if 17β-estradiol is given only during the first 3 days of postnatal life (personal unpublished data).

γ-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter of the mature central nervous system (CNS). The developmental switch of GABAergic transmission from excitation to inhibition is induced by changes in Cl gradients, which are generated by cation-Cl co-transporters. An accumulation of Cl by the Na+-K+-2Cl co-transporter (NKCC1) increases the intracellular Cl concentration ([Cl]i) such that GABA depolarizes neuronal precursors and immature neurons. The subsequent ontogenetic switch, i.e., upregulation of the Cl-extruder KCC2, which is a neuron-specific K+-Cl co-transporter, with or without downregulation of NKCC1, results in low [Cl]i levels and the hyperpolarizing action of GABA in mature neurons. Development of Cl homeostasis depends on developmental changes in NKCC1 and KCC2 expression. Generally, developmental shifts (decreases) in [Cl]i parallel the maturation of the nervous system, e.g., early in the spinal cord, hypothalamus and thalamus, followed by the limbic system, and last in the neocortex. There are several regulators of KCC2 and/or NKCC1 expression, including brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), insulin-like growth factor (IGF), and cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR). Therefore, regionally different expression of these regulators may also contribute to the regional developmental shifts of Cl homeostasis. KCC2 and NKCC1 functions are also regulated by phosphorylation by enzymes such as PKC, Src-family tyrosine kinases, and WNK1–4 and their downstream effectors STE20/SPS1-related proline/alanine-rich kinase (SPAK)-oxidative stress responsive kinase-1 (OSR1). In addition, activation of these kinases is modulated by humoral factors such as estrogen and taurine. Because these transporters use the electrochemical driving force of Na+ and K+ ions, topographical interaction with the Na+-K+ ATPase and its modulators such as creatine kinase (CK) should modulate functions of Cl transporters. Therefore, regional developmental regulation of these regulators and modulators of Cl transporters may also play a pivotal role in the development of Cl homeostasis.

The discovery that the dominant inhibitory neurotransmitter, GABA, is also the major source of excitation in the developing brain was so surprising and unorthodox it required years of converging evidence from multiple laboratories to gain general acceptance (Ben-Ari, 2002) and continues to draw challenges some 20 years after the initial reports (Rheims et al., 2009; Waddell et al., 2011). Fundamental developmental endpoints regulated by depolarizing GABA action include giant depolarizing potentials (Ben-Ari etal, 1989), leading to spontaneous activity patterns (Blankenship & Feller, 2010), activity dependent survival (Sauer and Bartos, 2010), neurite outgrowth (Sernagor et al., 2010), progenitor proliferation (Liu et al., 2005), and hebbian-based synaptic patterning (Wang & Kriegstein, 2008). We previously identified an endogenous regulator of depolarizing GABA action, the gonadal and neurosteroid estradiol, which both amplifies the magnitude and extends the developmental duration of excitatory GABA (Perrot-Sinal et al., 2001). Estradiol is a pervasive signaling molecule that varies in concentration between brain regions, across development and in males versus females, thereby contributing to variability in neuronal maturation. The present studies reveal that this steroid enhances depolarizing GABA effects by increasing levels of the signaling kinases SPAK and OSR1, which are upstream of the NKCC1 cotransporter. Estradiol mediated increases in NKCC1 phosphorylation are precluded by antisense oligonucleotide-mediated knockdown of SPAK, and to a lesser extent OSR1, exhibiting the necessity of these kinases for mediating estradiol’s effects. Furthermore, knockdown of either or both of these kinases significantly attenuated estradiol’s enhancement of intracellular Ca2+ influx in response to GABAA activation.

Estradiol has widespread effects on cellular processes through both rapid, nongenomic actions on cell signaling, and slower more enduring effects by modulating transcriptional activity (McEwen, 1991). The combination of a long time course and a complete ablation of the effectiveness of estradiol by simultaneous administration of blockers of transcription or translation confirm that the cascade of events leading to estradiol enhancement of depolarizing GABA begins with increased gene expression. The ability of the brain to synthesize estradiol in discrete loci raises the specter of estrogens as widespread endogenous regulators of depolarizing GABA actions that broadly impact on brain development.

Disregulation in developmental excitatory GABAergic signaling has been shown to impair the development of neuronal circuits and may be a contributing factor in neurodevelopmental disorders such as epilepsy, autism spectrum disorders, and schizophrenia (Briggs and Galanopoulou, 2011; Pizzarelli and Cherubini, 2011; Hyde et al, 2011). Sex differences have been widely reported in all of these disorders, implicating a role for estradiol in their etiology. Targeting SPAK or OSR1 may allow for novel therapeutic options for these neural disorders.

The role of Taurine and TauT
The Japanese paper below suggests that what I have called in this blog, the “GABA switch” is in part mediated by intracellular taurine.
In immature neurons, taurine is taken up into cells through the TauT transporter and activates WNK-SPAK/OSR1 signaling.
TauT is the taurine transporter that lets taurine into cells.

So logically if you blocked the taurine transporter in people with permanently immature neurons, things might improve.
Taurine is present in the embryonic brain by transportation from maternal blood via placental TauT. In addition, fetuses ingest taurine-rich amniotic fluid. Although fetal taurine decreases postnatally, infants receive taurine via breast milk, which contains a high taurine concentration. 

Taurine Inhibits KCC2 Activity via Serine/Threonine Phosphorylation
Because KCC2 is known to be regulated by kinases (15, 17, 54,,56), phosphorylation-related reagents were used to evaluate the effect on KCC2 activity. The tyrosine kinase inhibitor AG18 and tyrosine phosphatase inhibitor vanadate did not affect EGABA (supplemental Table 1A). In contrast, the broad spectrum kinase inhibitor staurosporine (Staur) shifted EGABA toward the negative in 15–20 min in the presence of taurine (control, −45.2 ± 0.3 mV; Staur, −47.6 ± 0.5 mV, n = 5, p = 0.002 (supplemental Fig. 3A and Table 1A). Considering that 1 h of taurine treatment did not have an effect on EGABA (Fig. 2A), these results suggest that chronic but not acute taurine treatment inhibited KCC2 activity in a serine/threonine phosphorylation-dependent manner. Moreover, staurosporine also shifted KCC2-positive cell EGABA significantly toward the negative in embryonic brain slices at E18.5 but was less effective in postnatal brain slices at P7 (control, −46.5 ± 0.8 mV; Staur, −51.0 ± 1.1 mV, n = 6, p = 0.007 at E18.5; control, −57.6 ± 1.7 mV; Staur, −59.1 ± 1.6 mV (n = 6, p = 0.06 at P7)) (supplemental Fig. 3B). In contrast, vanadate did not affect EGABA at either age (supplemental Table 1B).

Hypothetical model of Cl homeostasis regulated by taurine and WNK-SPAK/OSR1 signaling during perinatal periods. To control the excitatory/inhibitory balance mediated by GABA, [Cl]i is regulated by activation of the WNK-SPAK/OSR1 signaling pathway via KCC2 inhibition and possibly NKCC1 activation (54, 58, 59). In immature neurons, taurine is taken up into cells through TauT and activates WNK-SPAK/OSR1 signaling (left). Red arrows and T-shaped bars indicate activation and inactivation, respectively. Later (possibly a while after birth), this activation pathway induced by taurine diminishes, resulting in release of KCC/NKCC activity (right), whereas SPAK/OSR1 signaling recovers somewhat upon adulthood. Interestingly, in contrast to kinase signaling leading to KCC2 inhibition, other kinases are also known to facilitate KCC2 activity (see “Discussion”). 

We observed that taurine is implicated in WNK activity. WNK signaling is activated by stimuli, such as osmotic stress; however, the precise pathway leading to activation is unknown (38, 59). Our results indicate that taurine uptake is crucial for WNK activation, and only intracellular taurine activates WNKs, which are also involved in osmoregulation (52). There are no significant osmolarity differences with or without 3 mm taurine (without taurine, 215 ± 2 mosm versus with taurine, 216 ± 4 mosm (n = 4–5, p = 0.41)). In addition, 3 mm GABA did not affect phosphorylation of SPAK/OSR1 (data not shown), which indicates a specific action of taurine. 
KCC2 gene up-regulation is essential for Cl homeostasis during development, and phosphorylation of KCC2 is another important factor (5, 12, 15, 18, 55, 56). Ser-940 phosphorylation regulates KCC2 function by modulating cell surface KCC2 expression (56). Tyr-1087 phosphorylation affects oligomerization, which plays a pivotal role in KCC2 activity without affecting cell surface expression (20, 55). Rinehart et al. (54) indicated that Thr-906 and Thr-1007 phosphorylation does not affect cell surface KCC2 expression. In our study, oligomerization and plasmalemmal localization were not affected by taurine (data not shown), suggesting that phosphorylation of these sites may provide another mechanism of KCC2 activity modulation. 
A number of neuron types are generated relatively early during embryonic development, such as Cajal-Retzius and subplate cells in the cerebral cortex, which play regulatory roles in migration. Several reports have shown that these early generated neurons in the marginal zone and subplate are activated by GABA and glycine (82,,85). These early generated neurons can express KCC2 as early as the embryonic and neonatal stages (86). In addition, taurine is enriched in these brain areas (data not shown). Therefore, the present results suggest that KCC2 is not functional due to the distribution of taurine, which affects WNK-SPAK/OSR1 signaling and preserves GABAergic excitation. This signaling cascade may have broader important roles in brain development than previously reported.

I think we have pretty much got to the bottom of the current research on this subject.
There is plenty of ongoing Japanese involvement, which is good news.
You either find the GABA switch and, better late than never, finally activate it, or you modify the downstream processes as a therapy for immature neurons.  
Numerous things affect NKCC1/KCC2; so numerous therapies can potentially treat it.
The really clever solution would be to activate the GABA switch; that part I continue to think about.
Clearly, if you disrupt evolutionary processes like oxytocin and taurine passed from mother to baby there may be unexpected consequences.
Unusual levels of both male and female hormones and expression of estrogen/androgen receptors do play a role in the balance between NKCC1/KCC2 and so the level of chloride and hence how GABA behaves.
Inhibitors of WNK, SPAK and OSR1 are all promising potential therapies and I think these will emerge, since the big money of autism research is already backing this idea.
The TauT transporter is another possible target.
Hormone related options include a selective estrogen receptor beta agonist, an androgen receptor antagonist, and estradiol.  Unfortunately such therapy is quite likely to have unwanted side effects. So-called phytoestrogens like EGCG, from green tea, covered in a recent post are not very potent but if you had enough might show some effect.
For many reasons it looks like many people with autism could do with some more PKC (Protein Kinase C).