Autism: antidiarrheal drugs could have a beneficial effect on symptoms

Autism antidiarrheal drugs could have a beneficial effect on symptoms

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    According to a recent study, existing drugs represent a possible treatment to relieve the symptoms of autism spectrum disorder. Among them, loperamide, would be the most promising.

    Because to date, no drugs are approved for the treatment of social communication deficits in people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a team of Norwegian researchers wanted to examine the effects of already existing drugs. Rather unexpectedly, antidiarrheals, and in particular loperamide, would be good candidates for alleviating the symptoms that complicate communication. The findings were published in the journal Frontiers in Pharmacology, on September 12.

    Loperamide, an unexpected effect

    To reach this conclusion, researchers at the University of Oslo used a computer model that lists all the proteins involved in autism spectrum disorders and how they interact. They then examined the effect of various drugs already existing for other pathologies, on the proteins of the system before drawing up a list of potential candidates in the treatment of symptoms. Surprisingly, loperamide, usually prescribed to treat diarrhea, had the most promising effect on symptoms of social dysfunction.

    At this point, the researchers put forward a hypothesis: loperamide acts by binding to a receptor called μ opioid, a protein generally stimulated by opioid drugs (morphine). But if this receptor mainly acts on the attenuation of pain, it could also have positive effects on the imbalances in social behavior that exist in people with ASD.

    The microbiota at the heart of the solutions?

    Consulted on the subject, Dr. Joël Doré, researcher in intestinal microbial ecology and member of the FondaMental Foundation, confirms that a role in the symptoms of autism is emerging on the side of the intestines, and probably of the microbiota. “Autism has a genetic component that explains very few cases, but little by little science is teaching us about environmental factors that may have a role in the period of neurodevelopment and an associated imbalance of the intestinal flora. This would explain the increased prevalence of gut symptoms in autism compared to the general population (more than 50% vs. 15%).”

    Regarding the study itself, the scientist is enthusiastic: “Jim Adams’ team in the United States has shown that correcting an alteration of the microbiota in autistic children with intestinal symptoms can reduce the symptoms in a few weeks and reduce the severity of autism with long-term effects. It is an approach that aims to reconstruct the altered host/microbiota relationship, a source of intestinal symptoms but also of systemic inflammation that can be accompanied by cerebral micro-inflammation that maintains autism.” he explains.

    However, he wants to be cautious and opens the way to new questions: “That Loperamide can act on intestinal symptoms is known, but that it can act on an altered host-microbiota relationship will have to be demonstrated in humans. However, the choice of a chemical approach can be questioned (always prone to side effects) when a gut ecology approach also seems to offer interesting results”.

    In fact, acting on the inflammation of the intestine, by an antidiarrheal or another means would have a final beneficial effect: avoiding the daily intake of antipsychotic drugs today recommended for many people with ASD.