Metabolism of Autism Reveals Developmental Origins

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“Metabolism is the language that the brain, gut and immune system use to communicate, and autism occurs when the communication between these systems is changed,” added Naviaux. 

The cell danger response is primarily regulated by adenosine triphosphate (ATP) the body’s chemical energy currency. While these ATP-signaling pathways do not develop normally in autism, they may be partially restorable with existing pharmaceutical drugs. In 2017, Naviaux and his team completed early clinical testing for suramin, the only drug approved in humans that can target ATP signaling and which is normally used to treat African sleeping sickness.

Now, the researchers hope that by revealing the specific ATP-related pathways that are altered in autism, their work will help scientists develop more drugs that target these pathways to manage the symptoms of ASD.

“Suramin is just one drug that targets the cell danger response,” he said. “Now that we’re closely interrogating how metabolism changes in ASD, we could be at the beginning of a drug renaissance that will create new options for treatment that never existed before.”

Read the full study in Communications Biology.

Co-authors on the study include: Sai Sachin Lingampelly, Jane C. Naviaux, Jonathan M. Monk, Kefeng Li and Lin Wang at UC San Diego School of Medicine and Luke S. Heuer, Lori Haapanen, Chelsea A. Kelland and Judy Van de Water at University of California Davis This work was funded, in part, by Autism Speaks (grant 7274), the National Center for Research Resources (grant UL1TR001442), and through various philanthropic gifts.

Disclosures: Robert Naviaux is a scientific advisory board member for The Autism Community in Action (TACA), the Open Medicine Foundation (OMF), Pannex Therapeutics, Yuva Biosciences, Kuzani, and PaxMedica.

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