Open Medicine Foundation blog post, by Cort Johnson, 19 October 2017: Treating autism and ME/CFS: could one drug help both?

Autism is one of the most difficult conditions to treat. A neurodevelopmental disorder that typically strikes before the age of two, about a dozen different areas of the brain are affected.

Autism is characterized by social withdrawal, problems with both verbal and non-verbal communications and repetitive behaviors.  Autistic infants tend to smile less and have less eye contact with others than normal, have trouble in social situations, and are less verbal. The prognosis for autistic children is bleak with one study finding that only 4% ever achieve full independence.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and ME/CFS
ASD is not chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) but some similarities exist. Both diseases affect cognition and sensory processing, cause problems with stimuli, cause significant social withdrawal, and are associated with increased levels of oxidative stress, reduced glutathione levels, and a Th2 immune response shift.

According to Dr. Naviaux, “ASD and ME/CFS are on the same biological spectrum.”  Dr. Naviaux has encountered teenagers with ASD who develop ME/CFS, and adults with ME/CFS who develop autism-like symptoms of mutism, social withdrawal, sensory hypersensitivities, and OCD-like symptoms.

Both, he believes, are caused by a failure of the cell danger response (CDR) to shut down normally after a chemical or biological injury has been healed or cleared. Both disorders lead to abnormalities in metabolism that he has characterized using a laboratory tool called mass spectrometry and metabolomics.  (The similarities in metabolism are illustrated in Figure 1.)

Some of the abnormalities shared by both disorders include disturbances in purines, sphingolipids (including sphingomyelins and ceramides), phospholipids, and the microbiome.  Depending on whether a person is still actively fighting a perceived threat like a virus, bacterium, or toxin, or whether they are trying to heal after the exposure, these pathways can be increased or decreased compared to normal.  The take-home message is that these are precisely the same pathways the cell uses normally for fight infection and recovery from injuries.

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