Scientists from the Hector Institute for Translational Brain Research ( Germany ) found that the drug lamotrigine, which is used in the treatment of epilepsy and bipolar disorder, can alleviate the course of autism. The study is published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry .
The behavioral disturbances seen in autism are associated with a variety of genetic changes. In a new study, scientists have discovered another molecular cause of this condition – the “turn off” of the MYT1L protein. Normally, it controls the activity of several genes in nerve cells. Mutations in the gene that codes for this protein have been linked to schizophrenia and epilepsy, as well as brain malformations.
Scientists turned off MYT1L in human nerve cells grown from stem cells, which led to their hyperactivation, which is observed in autism. This was due to the production of excess sodium channels, which allow sodium ions to enter the cell. Sodium is critical for electrical conductivity in the nerve cell, and excess sodium can cause neuron hyperactivation. To block these channels, scientists used the drug lamotrigine.
The researchers produced genetically engineered mice lacking the MYT1L protein. The animals suffered from brain abnormalities and showed several behavioral changes typical of autism. These symptoms were significantly alleviated when the mice were given lamotrigine.
Scientists hope that drug treatment in adulthood can improve the function of brain cells in autism. However, the results are still limited to studies in mice. Clinical trials in patients with autism spectrum disorders are in the early stages of planning.