Showing posts with label Verapamil. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Verapamil. Show all posts

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

Bumetanide for TSC-type Autism, Verapamil now for sinusitis, Lower dose Folinic Acid looks interesting for Autism in France, Roche cuts Balovaptan and Basmisanil; Stanford continue repurposing Vasopressin for Autism

 Repurposing what already exists – cheap, safe, effective and sometimes colourful

Today’s post is nice and simple.

Yet another sub-type of autism is shown in a clinical trial to respond to the cheap drug bumetanide, this time it is children diagnosed with TSC (tuberous sclerosis complex); TSC is a leading genetic cause of autism often used in research.

In France researchers repurposed Folinoral, a lower dose equivalent of Dr Frye’s, and our reader Roger’s, Leucovorin to treat autism with a positive result.  Folinoral is Calcium Folinate, but the dose was just 5mg twice a day, much less than the dose used in the US research.

The potential off-label uses for Verapamil, the old calcium channel blocker helpful in some autism, continue to grow.

Original purpose:  

Lower blood pressure by blocking L-type calcium channels

Alternative uses:

·        Treating bipolar disorder
·        Treating cluster headaches and some migraine
·        Halting the loss of insulin production in people with diabetes
·        Treating diarrhea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome (IBS-D)
·        Treating aggression/anxiety in some autism

We can now add, as our reader Lisa discovered by chance,

·        Treating chronic sinusitis

Patients with severe chronic rhinosinusitis show improvement with Verapamil treatment

"Recently, we became aware that some of the inflammation in chronic rhinosinusitis (CRS) with nasal polyps is generated by the nasal lining itself, when a particular protein pump (P-glycoprotein) is overexpressed and leads to the hyper-secretion of inflammatory cytokines," said senior author Benjamin S. Bleier, M.D., a sinus surgeon at Mass. Eye and Ear and an assistant professor of otolaryngology at Harvard Medical School. "Verapamil is a first-generation inhibitor that is well-established in blocking P-glycoprotein. In some patients with CRS with nasal polyps, we saw dramatic improvement in their symptom scores."

Roche ditching experimental autism drugs

Basmisanil which targets the alpha 5 sub-unit of GABAA receptors was originally being developed to improve cognition in Down Syndrome; those clinical trials failed. Now Roche have pulled the plug on the trials to improve cognition in Schizophrenia.
Balovaptan was Roche’s expensive bet on Vasopressin to treat autism, covered in earlier posts; it blocks the activity of the V1a vasopressin receptor.  The Balovaptan phase 3 clinical trials have also been cancelled.

Stanford still pursuing Vasopressin for autism

Stanford’s bet on Vasopressin for autism is still ongoing.  They had the much simpler idea of just putting some pharmaceutical-grade vasopressin in a nasal spray and trialling that.

Intranasal delivery of drugs to target the brain appeals to me, as do eye drops.  Your eyes are part of the central nervous system, in the case of your nose it appears that drugs are transported directly to the brain from the nasal cavity along the olfactory and trigeminal nerves. 

Mechanism of intranasal drug delivery directly to the brain

One feature of this blog is a belief that central hormonal dysfunction is a core feature of much autism.  The big problem is that you cannot easily measure hormone levels in the central nervous system (CNS) and you may get quite contradictory results measuring hormone levels in blood samples.

Plasma oxytocin and vasopressin do not predict neuropeptide concentrations in human cerebrospinal fluid.

I was encouraged to see that the Stanford vasopressin researchers measured vasopressin in samples from spinal fluid.  They found that children who went on to be diagnosed with autism has very low levels of vasopressin in their brains early in life. Making it a potential biomarker.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a brain disorder characterized by social impairments. ASD is currently diagnosed on the basis of behavioral criteria because no robust biomarkers have been identified. However, we recently found that cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) concentration of the “social” neuropeptide arginine vasopressin (AVP) is significantly lower in pediatric ASD cases vs. controls. As an initial step in establishing the direction of causation for this association, we capitalized upon a rare biomaterials collection of newborn CSF samples to conduct a quasi-prospective test of whether this association held before the developmental period when ASD first manifests. CSF samples had been collected in the course of medical care of 0- to 3-mo-old febrile infants (n = 913) and subsequently archived at −70 °C. We identified a subset of CSF samples from individuals later diagnosed with ASD, matched them 1:2 with appropriate controls (n = 33 total), and quantified their AVP and oxytocin (OXT) concentrations. Neonatal CSF AVP concentrations were significantly lower among ASD cases than controls and individually predicted case status, with highest precision when cases with comorbid attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder were removed from the analysis. The associations were specific to AVP, as ASD cases and controls did not differ in neonatal CSF concentrations of the structurally related neuropeptide, OXT. These preliminary findings suggest that a neurochemical marker of ASD may be present very early in life, and if replicated in a larger, prospective study, this approach could transform how ASD is detected, both in behaviorally symptomatic children, and in infants at risk for developing it.
Easy to read version: -

Cerebrospinal fluid levels of a hormone called vasopressin were lower in babies who went on to develop autism than in those who did not, a study found. 

Cerebrospinal Fluid Vasopressin and Symptom Severity in Children with Autism


Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) arginine vasopressin (AVP) concentration differs between children with and without autism (AUT), predicts AUT diagnosis, and predicts symptom severity. (A) CSF AVP concentration is lower in children with AUT (n = 36) compared to control children (n = 36), whereas (B) CSF oxytocin (OXT) concentration does not differ between groups. 
(C) The effect of CSF AVP concentration on predicted (line) and observed (symbols) group is plotted, corrected for the other variables in the analysis. Children with AUT plotted above, and control children plotted beneath, the dashed line (which represents 50% probability) are correctly classified. Specifically, across the range of observed CSF AVP concentrations, the likelihood of AUT increased over 1,000-fold, corresponding to nearly a 500-fold increase in risk with each 10-fold decrease in CSF AVP concentration (range odds ratio = 1,080, unit odds ratio = 494, β1 ± SE = −6.202 ± 1.898). (D) CSF AVP concentration predicts Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS)–Calibrated Severity Score (CSS) in male but not in female children with AUT.

I think many hormones are likely disturbed in autism and that modifying them is one potential method of treating autism.

At Stanford they have already had success by squirting vasopressin up kids’ noses:-

In a Stanford study of 30 children with autism, intranasal vasopressin improved social skills more than a placebo, suggesting that the hormone may treat core features of the disorder.


Stanford University, Department of Comparative Medicine, Stanford Background: Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by social impairments and restricted, repetitive behaviors. Despite ASD’s prevalence, there are currently no medications that effectively treat its core features. Accumulating preclinical research suggests that arginine vasopressin (AVP), a neuropeptide involved in mammalian social functioning, may be a possible treatment for ASD. Objective: The goal of this investigation is to examine the safety and efficacy of AVP in the treatment of social deficits in children with ASD. Material and Methods: Using a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, parallel design, we tested the efficacy and tolerability of 4-week intranasal AVP treatment in a sample of N=30 children with ASD aged 6-12 years. Results: AVP compared to Placebo treatment significantly enhanced social abilities in children with ASD as measured by change from baseline in the trial’s primary outcome measure, the Social Responsiveness Scale (a parent-report measure). AVP-related social improvements were likewise evident on clinician impression and child performance-based measures. AVP treatment also diminished anxiety symptoms and some restricted/repetitive behaviors. An endogenous blood AVP concentration by treatment group interaction was also observed, such that participants with the highest pre-treatment blood AVP concentrations benefitted the most from AVP (but not Placebo) treatment. AVP was well tolerated with minimal side-effects. No AVP-treated participant dropped out of the trial, and there were no differences in adverse event rates reported between the AVP and Placebo groups. Finally, no significant changes from baseline were observed in electrocardiogram, vital signs, height and weight, or clinical chemistry measurements after 4-week AVP treatment. Conclusions: These findings suggest that intranasally administered AVP is a well-tolerated and promising medication for the treatment of social impairments in children with ASD.

Using a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, parallel clinical trial design, we found that the 4-week intranasal AVP treatment enhanced social abilities in children with ASD as assessed by the trial’s primary outcome measure, the SRS-2 T score. The robustness of this parent-reported social improvement score was corroborated by convergent evidence from clinician evaluation of the social communication abilities of trial participants and by performance of trial participants on laboratory tests of social cognition. These preliminary findings suggest that intranasally administered AVP may be a promising medication for treatment of core social impairments in children with ASD.

We also sought to investigate whether pretreatment neuropeptide concentrations in blood could predict AVP treatment response. We found that participants with the highest pretreatment AVP concentrations in blood benefitted the most from intranasal AVP treatment. This finding may seem counterintuitive, particularly in light of our recent studies showing that low AVP concentrations in CSF could be used to differentiate ASD cases from non-ASD control individuals (1314). One might therefore expect that it would be those children with the lowest endogenous AVP concentrations that stood to benefit the most from intranasal AVP treatment. However, being mindful of safety in this pediatric population, our pilot study used a conservative dose escalation regimen in which children were treated with fairly low doses of AVP throughout much of the trial. Assuming that blood AVP concentrations are related, in some manner, to brain AVP activity—a notion about which there is debate (142225)—it is possible that participants with lower endogenous AVP concentrations at the trial’s outset were “underdosed” in terms of drug amount or duration of treatment and, therefore, would not benefit as fully from AVP administration as those with higher endogenous AVP concentrations. This interpretation is consistent with our finding that AVP treatment enhanced simple social perceptual abilities independent of pretreatment AVP concentrations in blood, whereas it was only those AVP-treated individuals with higher pretreatment blood AVP concentrations who showed gains in complex social behaviors and a reduction in repetitive behaviors.

Pharmacological intervention

Commercially available injectable sterile AVP was used in this study. It was initially purchased from JHP Pharmaceuticals (Rochester, MI), which was subsequently acquired by Par Sterile Products (Chestnut Ridge, NY) in 2014. The placebo solution was prepared by Koshland Pharm (San Francisco, CA) and consisted of ingredients used in the active solution except for the AVP compound. A pharmacist transferred 25 ml of AVP (20 International Units (IU)/ml) or placebo solutions into standard sterile amber glass bottles with metered (0.1 ml per puff) nasal spray applicators to ensure that the AVP and placebo applicators were visually indistinguishable to the research team. These applicators were coded and given to the Stanford Health Care’s Investigational Drug Service for refrigerated storage (2°C to 8°C) and subsequent dispensing. After the first AVP dose (see below), the dose-escalation regimen at home for all participants involved administration of 4 IU twice daily (or BID) of AVP during week 1 and 8 IU BID of AVP during week 2. Participants aged 6 to 9.5 years then received 12 IU BID of AVP during weeks 3 and 4, whereas participants aged 9.6 to 12.9 years received 16 IU BID of AVP during weeks 3 and 4. A range of possible AVP doses was identified by review of the published literature; the final study doses were then determined in close consultation with the FDA.

A few years ago I did write about the hormone TRH as a potential means of improving autism.  TRH can also be squirted up your nose, although I favoured an oral TRH super-agonist called Taltirelin/Ceredist.

I also suggested that DHED, an orally active, centrally selective prodrug of estradiol, could well be a therapeutic in autism. DHED should give all the benefits of the female hormone estradiol, without any side-effects outside the CNS.  Many of the benefits are via ROR alpha.

Without having samples of spinal fluid, identifying, let alone treating, central hormonal dysfunction is rather a matter of guesswork.

Hormones are very much interrelated and perform different functions in different parts of the body, so it would be easy to get unwanted effects, as with estradiol, if taken orally.
Bumetanide for TSC (Tuberous Sclerosis Complex)

A small trial in children with TSC (Tuberous sclerosis complex) has shown that bumetanide improved their features of autism (social behavior, irritability and hyperactivity) but did not reduce seizures.


This pilot study indicates the potential efficacy of bumetanide on behavioral problems in young patients with TSC. Bumetanide improved irritable, explosive, and social behavior in the majority of patients in this sample and treatment was well tolerated.

Folinic Acid for Autism, but at a lower dose than Dr Frye

I did recently complete my trial of generic Calcium Folinate at something like Dr Frye’s Leucovorin dose.

I found that it did indeed have a positive effect on the use of expressive language.  It prompted the use of more complex sentences.

The downside was that it did also cause aggressive/violent outbursts, so I put it in my “rejected” pile of therapies.  

I was interested to see that in France a trial has been carried out using a lower dose than that proposed by Dr Frye.  Is it possible to get benefits without the side effects? 

Folinic acid improves the score of Autism in the EFFET placebo-controlled randomized trial  


Folinic acid treatment is well tolerated in children with Autism spectrum disorders.
Folinic acid treatment shows improvement in Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule score.
Effect of 10 mg/d folinic acid should be confirmed by a larger a multi-center trial.
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are influenced by interacting maternal and environmental risk factors. High-dose folinic acid has shown improvement in verbal communication in ASD children. The EFFET randomized placebo-controlled trial (NCT02551380) aimed to evaluate the efficacy of folinic acid (FOLINORAL®) at a lower dose of 5 mg twice daily.
Nineteen children were included in the EFFET trial. The primary efficacy outcome was improvement of Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) score. The secondary outcomes were the improvement in ADOS sub scores communication, social interactions, Social Responsiveness Score (SRS) and treatment safety.
The global ADOS score and social interaction and communication sub scores were significantly improved at week 12 compared to baseline in the folinic acid group (P = 0.003, P = 0.004 and P = 0.022, respectively), but not in the placebo group (P = 0.574, P = 0.780, P = 0.269, respectively). We observed a greater change of ADOS global score (−2.78 vs. −0.4 points) and (−1.78 vs. 0.20 points) in the folinic acid group, compared to the placebo group. No serious adverse events were observed.
This pilot study showed significant efficacy of folinic acid with an oral formulation that is readily available. It opens a perspective of therapeutic intervention with folinic acid but needs to be confirmed by a multi-center trial on a larger number of children.


There was concern that people with severe autism might be at increased risk during the current pandemic and indeed the death rate among people with intellectual disability/learning disability/mental retardation did double from 240 a month to 480 a month in the UK.  The real scandal though was deaths in care homes for the elderly, in countries with advanced healthcare systems, where tens of thousands of extra deaths have occurred.

In “advanced” healthcare systems like the UK, early in the epidemic, elderly people caught Covid-19 in hospital and when they returned to their care home, they infected others.  Care workers who are allowed/forced to work in multiple care homes then caught the virus in one home and transmitted it to the others.  Nobody was tested until care homes had already become breeding grounds for the virus.

In Hong Kong they report zero covid-19 deaths in care homes.  Elderly people could not return to their care home from hospital without testing negative for the virus, and procedures were in place to release elderly patients from hospital first to repurposed hotels, where they stayed until negative for the virus. Due to their grim experience with the 2003 SARS epidemic, Hong Kong already had very strict measures in place to limit infections and they even had regular rehearsals in care homes of the procedures to implement in future pandemics.

Where we live there was an outbreak in a care home and the authorities’ reaction was to arrest the boss of the care home.  I suppose that is one way to get other care homes to take matters seriously. We even had soldiers posted outside care homes to stop people entering.  In New York, Cuomo’s threat to care homes was that you might eventually lose your license to operate if you flout the rules. If most care homes are flouting the rules, they cannot all lose their licenses.

Some rich Western countries apparently implemented their much-vaunted flu pandemic procedures.  It looks like they have much to learn from other places, from Hong Kong to Greece, who did very much better.  Greece implemented a draconian lock down, very early, and has had a tiny number of cases and just 166 deaths. When Greece re-opens in July to tourists from high risk countries (UK, France, Italy, Spain etc) we will see what happens.

I do wonder why so many people are living in care homes. In Sweden, I saw on TV, one lady complaining that her fit and healthy father, capable of walking a few miles/km had caught covid-19 in his care home, was refused transfer to hospital and later died.  Why was he sent to live a care home in the first place?

Milan has an old care home called Pio Albergio Trivulzia ("Baggina"), it had over a thousand residents and media reports 200+ covid deaths.

There are horrific cases in the UK of young adults being sent to live in small mental hospitals by their parents; they subsequently deteriorate and some have even died.  Why did the parents hand their children over in the first place?  They thought they could not cope at home, but clearly some dedicated institutions have even less capacity to care. 


Re-purposing existing cheap drugs to treat a different medical condition makes a lot of sense, but it is not going to make the inventor or the drug firm much money.  It is not popular with drug producers.

Developing new drugs to treat any neurological condition looks great in the early stages of research and then they all seem to fade way, wasting many tens of millions of dollars.  Don’t raise your hopes.

Is intranasal vasopressin the smartest hormone to choose to modify?  It is possible today, using existing products and appears to be safe, which are the most important issues. I think there is more potential beyond this single hormone.

Treat autism and intellectual disability/mental retardation medically, so those people can live more normally, be more fulfilled and do not later need such expensive care home provision. It is a win-win strategy.

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Metformin to raise Cognition in Fragile X and some other Autisms?

I started to write this post a long time ago, when Agnieszka first highlighted an interview with Dr Hagerman from UC Davis.  Hagerman is experimenting in using Metformin to treat Fragile-X.

Having again be reminded about Metformin, I realized that I never finished my post on this subject. With some extras about autophagy and a nice graphic courtesy of Ling’s excellent paper, here it is. 

Metformin has already been covered in 5 previous posts.

One interesting point is that the researchers at UC Davis are using the measurement of IQ as one of the outcome measures in their trial of Metformin.  I have been suggesting the French Bumetanide researchers do this for a long time.

It is my opinion that simple medical interventions can have a profound impact on the IQ of some people with severe autism. I mean raising IQ not by 5-10 points as at UC Davis, but by 20-50 points.  IQ can be measured using standardized tools and is far less subjective than any autism rating scale.

The big-time potential IQ enhancers we have seen in this blog include: -

·        Bumetanide/Azosemide
·        Statins (Atorvastatin, Lovastatin, Simvastatin, but they are not equivalent and the effect has nothing to do with lowering cholesterol)
·        Micro-dose Clonazepam
·        Clemastine
·        It seems DMF, in n=2 trial

The good news is that these drugs are all off-patent cheap generics (except DMF), as is metformin.  No need for drugs costing $50,000 a year.

For those that do not know, metformin is the first line medication for type-2 diabetes. It was introduced as a medication in France in 1957 and the United States in 1995.  In many countries Metformin is extremely cheap, with 30 x 500 mg tablets costing about $2 or Eur 2. In the US it costs about $10 for generic, so not expensive. 

There are sound reasons why Metformin could increase IQ in someone with autism or Fragile-X. In the case of idiopathic autism is there a likely biomarker to identify a likely responder? One has not yet been identified.

Clearly Metformin will not work for all people with autism and MR/ID, but even if it only works for 10% that would be great.

Are all parents going to notice an increase in IQ of 5-10 points?  You might think so, but I doubt it.  I would hope therapists, teachers and assistants would notice.

I think basic mental maths is the best way to notice improved cognitive function in people with IQ less than 70.  You can easily establish a baseline and then you can notice/measure improvements.

Improved cognitive function does not just help with maths, it helps with learning basic skills like tying shoe laces, brushing teeth and later shaving.  This does also involve many other types of skill.

In the study, researchers from the UC Davis Medical Investigation of Neurodevelopmental Disorders Institute in California tested the long-term effects of metformin, delivered at 1,000 milligrams (mg) twice a day, for one year in two male patients, 25 and 30 years old. Genetic analysis confirmed that both patients had mutations in the FMR1 gene, confirming their fragile X syndrome diagnoses.

The younger patient had autism and was also diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. First prescribed metformin at 22, he is currently taking 500 mg of metformin twice a day and 10 mg per day of simvastatin — used to lower the level of cholesterol in the blood.
The second patient was also diagnosed with anxiety and exhibited socially nervous behaviors, including panic attacks. He had severe limitations in language use, and communicated in short sentences and by mumbling. He had been on an extended-release formulation of metformin, taking 1,000 mg once a day for one year.

Both patients showed significant cognitive and behavioral improvements. After one year of treatment with metformin, test results revealed an increase in the patients’ IQ scores, from 53 to 57 in the younger patient and from 50 to 58 in the second patient.

Verbal and nonverbal IQ — the ability to analyze information and solve problems using visual or hands-on reasoning — were also improved in both patients. Non-verbal IQ increased from 50 to 52 in the younger patient and from 47 to 51 in the other. Verbal IQ went from 61 to 66 in the first patient, and from 58 to 68 in the second.


Researcher Randi Hagerman is a big proponent of metformin — a diabetes drug that helps people manage their weight. In fact, Hagerman takes the drug herself as a preventive measure against cancer.
Metformin has also unexpectedly shown promise for improving cognition in people with fragile X syndrome, a leading genetic cause of autism characterized by severe intellectual disability.

A study published in 2017 linked impaired insulin signalling in the brain to cognitive and social deficits in a fruit fly model of fragile X, and the flies improved on metformin. A second paper that year showed that metformin reverses abnormalities in a mouse model of the syndrome, including the number of branches the mice’s neurons form. It also improved seizures and hyperactivity in the mice — issues we also see in people with fragile X.
I began prescribing metformin to people with fragile X syndrome to help curb overeating. Many of the people I treat are overweight because of this habit — it’s one of the symptoms of a subtype of fragile X called the Prader-Willi phenotype, not to be confused with Prader-Willi syndrome.
I was surprised when the families of these individuals told me they could talk better and carry out conversations, where they couldn’t before. That really gave us impetus to conduct a controlled clinical trial.
It’s not a cure-all, but we do see some positive changes. It doesn’t resolve intellectual disability, but we have seen IQ improvements of up to 10 points in two boys who have been treated with metformin. We are very excited about that.

Individuals on metformin tend to start eating less, and often lose weight as a result. I could kick myself, because metformin has been approved to treat obesity for many years, but I never thought to use it in fragile X syndrome. Oftentimes children with fragile X syndrome have so many problems that you aren’t thinking about obesity as the top priority.
We’ve also seen a gradual effect on language, which we can detect after two to three months. Sometimes there are improvements in other behaviors too; I’ve seen mood-stabilizing effects. Many people with fragile X syndrome have issues with aggression, and it’s possible these could be moderated with metformin too. 

Individuals with fragile X syndrome (FXS) have both behavioral and medical comorbidities and the latter include obesity in approximately 30% and the Prader‐Willi Phenotype (PWP) characterized by severe hyperphagia and morbid obesity in less than 10%. Metformin is a drug used in individuals with type 2 diabetes, obesity or impaired glucose tolerance and it has a strong safety profile in children and adults. Recently published studies in the Drosophila model and the knock out mouse model of FXS treated with metformin demonstrate the rescue of multiple phenotypes of FXS.

Materials and Methods

We present 7 cases of individuals with FXS who have been treated with metformin clinically. One case with type 2 diabetes, 3 cases with the PWP, 2 adults with obesity and/or behavioral problems and, a young child with FXS. These individuals were clinically treated with metformin and monitored for behavioral changes with the Aberrant Behavior Checklist and metabolic changes with a fasting glucose and HgbA1c.


We found consistent improvements in irritability, social responsiveness, hyperactivity, and social avoidance, in addition to comments from the family regarding improvements in language and conversational skills. No significant side‐effects were noted and most patients with obesity lost weight.


We recommend a controlled trial of metformin in those with FXS. Metformin appears to be an effective treatment of obesity including those with the PWP in FXS. Our study suggests that metformin may also be a targeted treatment for improving behavior and language in children and adults with FXS.

Recruiting: Clinical Trial of Metformin for Fragile X Syndrome

While a growing number of families are trying metformin and reporting mixed results, metformin has not yet been systematically studied in patients with Fragile X syndrome. This open-label trial is designed to better understand the safety and efficacy of this medicine on behavior and cognition, and to find the best dosages for children and adults.

20 children and adults with Fragile X syndrome will take metformin 250mg twice a day for the first week, followed by metformin 500mg twice a day for the next 8 weeks.
The study will measure changes in the total score on the Aberrant Behavior Checklist-Community (ABC-C) after 9 weeks of metformin treatment. The ABC-C is a 58-item behavior scale which is filled out by a caregiver. In addition, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) will be used to look for changes in cortical excitability and Electroencephalography (EEG) will assess levels of synaptic plasticity.
Participants in this study must be Canadian residents and be able to travel to the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec, Canada, for several visits. If you are interested in metformin but this trial is not convenient, there are two alternatives. FRAXA is funding a new trial of metformin in New Jersey, and Dr. Randi Hagerman is currently recruiting for metformin trial at the University of California at Davis MIND Institute.

Metformin has emerged as a candidate drug for the targeted treatment of FXS based on animal studies showing rescue of multiple phenotypes in the FXS model. Metformin may contribute to normalizing signalling pathways in FXS in the central nervous system, which may include activities of mTOR and PI3K, both of which have shown to be pathogenically overactive in FXS. In addition, metformin inhibits phosphodiesterase, which would lead to correction of cAMP levels, and MMP9 production, which is also elevated in FXS. Looking at the potential signalling pathways, metformin appears to be a good candidate for targeting several of the intracellular functions in neurons disrupted in FXS and, therefore, has potential to rescue several types of symptoms in individuals with FXS. The researchers have utilized metformin in the clinical treatment of over 20 individuals with FXS between the ages of 4 and 58 years and have found the medication to be well tolerated and to provide benefits not only in lowering weight gain and normalizing appetite but also in language and behavior. In this controlled trial, the researchers hope to further assess metformin's safety and benefits in the areas of language and cognition, eating and weight loss, and overall behavior.

mTOR and P13K

Hagerman highlights Metformin’s effects on mTOR and P13K pathways.

This is a highly complex subject and the graphic below from an early post shows how interconnected everything is.  If mTOR is not working correctly you can expect many things not to work as nature intended.

Numerous things can cause an imbalance in mTOR and so there are numerous ways to re-balance it.

Not surprisingly much of this pathway plays a role in many types of cancer.

Hagerman herself is taking Metformin to reduce her chances of developing cancer. I think that is a good choice, particularly if you are overweight.  My anticancer choice, not being overweight, is Atorvastatin which targets inhibition of PI3K signalling through Akt and increases PTEN.

Hagerman is 70 years old and I think many cancers actual initiate years before they are large enough to get noticed and to be effective any preventative therapy needs to be started before that initiation has occurred. Hopefully she started her Metformin long ago. 

Given that 50% of people are likely to develop one cancer or another, I am with Dr Hagerman on the value of prevention, rather than treatment/cure.

The Wrong Statin for Fragile-X?

In the first article highlighted in this post, there is a case history of a man with FX being treated by a Statin, it looks to me that he has the wrong prescription (Simvastatin). Perhaps Dr Hagerman should read this old post from this blog:-

Choose your Statin with Care in FXS, NF1 and idiopathic Autism

   Simvastatin does not reduce ERK1/2 or mTORC1 activation in the Fmr1-/y hippocampus.
So  ? = Does NOT inhibit

The key is to reduce Ras. In the above graphic it questions does Simvastatin inhibit RAS and Rheb.

For anyone really interested, the following graphic from a previous post shows the fragile X mental retardation protein, FMRP.  Lack of FMRP goes on increase neuroligins (NLFNS) this then creates an excitatory/inhibitory imbalance which cause mental retardation and features of autism.

This all suggests that the 25 year-old young man with Fragile X treated at UC Davis (case study above) should switch from Simvastatin to Lovastatin.

Metformin and Autophagy

I also think Dr Hagerman is less likely to get dementia now that she is talking metformin.  If she takes vigorous exercise at least once a week, I think that is also going to keep her grey cells ticking over nicely. Like Dr Ben Ari, Hr Hagerman is working way past normal retirement.  If you love your job, then why not?  As with many things, in the case of neurons, “use them or lose them”.

Autophagy in Dementias

Dementias are a varied group of disorders typically associated with memory loss, impaired judgment and/or language and by symptoms affecting other cognitive and social abilities to a degree that interferes with daily functioning. Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common cause of a progressive dementia, followed by dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB), frontotemporal dementia (FTD), vascular dementia (VaD) and HIV associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND).
The pathogenesis of this group of disorders has been linked to the abnormal accumulation of proteins in the brains of affected individuals, which in turn has been related to deficits in protein clearance. Autophagy is a key cellular protein clearance pathway with proteolytic cleavage and degradation via the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway representing another important clearance mechanism. Alterations in the levels of autophagy and the proteins associated with the autophagocytic pathway have been reported in various types of dementias. This review will examine recent literature across these disorders and highlight a common theme of altered autophagy across the spectrum of the dementias.

Below is an excellent graphic from a paper highlighted by Ling. Note metformin, above AMPK.

Autophagy Activator Drugs: A New Opportunity in Neuroprotection from Misfolded Protein Toxicity

I would highlight the presence of IP3R, the calcium channel proposed by Gargus as being a nexus in autism, for where multiple types of autism meet up, to do damage.

Verapamil, in Monty’s Polypill, increases autophagy independently of mTOR in a complicated mechanism  involving IP3R and likley calpain.  It is proposed as a therapy for Huntington’s Disease via this mechanism. At the lower right of the chart below we see calpain, a group of calcium dependent enzymes, not well understood.  ROS can activate calpains via L-type calcium channels.

I would not worry about the details.  The take home point is that if you have autism, dementia or many other neurological conditions, you might well benefit from increasing autophagy.  There are very many ways to do this.      

Fortunately, I am not a doctor.  I do recall when my doctor father was out visiting his sick patients at their homes, he did have not only his medical bag, but also some useful gadgets always kept in his car, that might come in handy.

The autism equivalent is the personalized Polypill therapy for daily use and the autism toolbox to delve into to treat flare-ups in autism as and when they arise.

I do think some people should have metformin in their daily Polypill therapy.

I think we can safely call Fragile-X a type of autism, so we already know it works for at least some autism.  Metformin is a very safe old drug, with minimal side effects and it is cheap.  It ticks all the boxes for a potential autism therapy.  Will it work for your case?  I can tell you with certainty that it does not work for everyone.

Metformin has been trialled to treat people with obesity and autism, since it can reduce appetite.

Metformin forTreatment of Overweight Induced by Atypical Antipsychotic Medication in YoungPeople With Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Randomized Clinical Trial.


Metformin or matching placebo titrated up to 500 mg twice daily for children aged 6 to 9 years and 850 mg twice daily for those 10 to 17 years.


The primary outcome measure was change in body mass index (BMI) z score during 16 weeks of treatment. Secondary outcomes included changes in additional body composition and metabolic variables. Safety, tolerability, and efficacy analyses all used a modified intent-to-treat sample comprising all participants who received at least 1 dose of medication.


Of the 61 randomized participants, 60 participants initiated treatment (45 [75%] male; mean [SD] age, 12.8 [2.7] years). Metformin reduced BMI z scores from baseline to week 16 significantly more than placebo (difference in 16-week change scores vs placebo, -0.10 [95% CI, -0.16 to -0.04]; P = .003). Statistically significant improvements were also noted in secondary body composition measures (raw BMI, -0.95 [95% CI, -1.46 to -0.45] and raw weight, -2.73 [95% CI, -4.04 to -1.43]) but not in metabolic variables. Overall, metformin was well tolerated. Five participants in the metformin group discontinued treatment owing to adverse events (agitation, 4; sedation, 1). Participants receiving metformin vs placebo experienced gastrointestinal adverse events during a significantly higher percentage of treatment days (25.1% vs 6.8%; P = .005).


Metformin may be effective in decreasing weight gain associated with atypical antipsychotic use and is well tolerated by children and adolescents with ASD.

My guess is that a minority will be responders, the benefit will manifest itself in different ways and so it will be a useful part of polytherapy for some people, but it will not be a silver bullet.  Other than via an IQ test, I think the benefit will be hard to measure, even when it is very evident. 

In the end there will be a clever way to predict who will respond to which therapy.  Today’s post actually replaces one that will look into genetic testing and DEGs (differentially expressed genes). Most likely testing for DEGs will be the best predictor of what drugs work for whom.

Intelligent, cautious trial and error using safe drugs is an alternative strategy.  It is available today; it is cheap and it does work.

I have not tried Metformin yet, in recent years I have had most success with my own ideas. I have some of Dr Frye's calcium folinate sitting at home waiting for a trial.  Both Metformin and calcium folinate should be trialled.  The other obvious thing to trial is that Japanese PDE4 inhibitor Ibudilast (Ketas).  Thanks to Rene we now know you can acquire this is via any international pharmacy in Germany, with a prescription. It also reappeared on the website of a Japanese online pharmacy. The Western PDE4 inhibitors, like Daxas/Roflumilast are not selective enough and so are emetic (they make you want to vomit). Low dose Roflumilast has been patented as a cognitive enhancer, but you may need to have a bucket with you at all times.