Can MDMA help the autistic—and other medically underserved populations—cope with their anxiety?

“Psychologist Alicia Danforth invited a dozen or so autistic adults to a treatment room at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.”
“Autistic MDMA users had a distinct way of talking about newfound mental clarity. They said things like, “My thoughts straightened out,” “I had laser focus” or “the thought loops stopped.” They usually described it as something very pleasant or very rare, a kind of inner calm and a break from a lot of mental chaos.

 

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Neurons have WiFi!?! Electric fields used to send signals in the brain

wifiscream

Unbelievable results out of Case Western’s Neural Engineering Center.

Authors observed brain waves moving very unusually slowly – just a tenth of a meter per second.   That’s incredibly slow compared to other nerves which can conducted signals as fast of 432 km/h or 275 miles per hour!

As scientists struggled to understand what could be propagating these signals, they ruled out all known transmission mechanisms: synapses, gap junctions, and diffusion.  Their astonishing best guess:  that the signals are being sent directly through the electric field!

We’ve long known that neurons can send signals through axons, the “wires”.   But if Case Western’s geniuses are right, then neurons also have “wireless”.    They can literally communicate, cell-to-cell, through the electric field!

If true, this would be a genuine Game-Changer for our understanding of communication in the brain.

This puzzle piece, submitted for your approval:   “Can Neural Activity Propagate by Endogenous Electrical Field?” (Chen Qiu, Rajat S. Shivacharan, Mingming Zhang, and Dominique M. Durand)

 

 

MacGuyvering a Stuck Switch: GABA functioning restored in Rett Syndrome neurons

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The first men on the moon almost didn’t make it home – all because of a stuck switch.

While heading out for a moonwalk, Buzz Aldrin accidentally bumped the control panel, breaking off a  switch.   No just any switch, either.   It was a very important switch, specifically the one that that powered the engines – the very engines they were relying on to get them back home.   The switch was now stuck.  If they didn’t fix it, they would die on the moon sitting atop a rocket that couldn’t be ignited.

With ingenuity that would make MacGuyver proud,  the astronauts found a solution.   They able to restore functioning to the stuck switch – using a felt-tipped pen.

Now scientists have discovered the genetic ‘stuck switch’ is behind Rett syndrome.  And these molecular MacGuyvers have even figured out a way to restore functioning to the affected systems.


InRodWeTrustRett syndrome,  an autism-like condition, is caused by mutations in the gene MECP2 (methyl CpG binding protein 2).   The protein MECP2 is present in the nucleus where is involved in switching other genes on or off (via the process of DNA methylation.)

One of the genes regulated by MECP2 is the Cloride potassium supporter (KCC2) which is found in neurons.    Scientists took cells from patients with Rett’s, turned them into stem cells, and then turned those stem cells into neurons.    Unlike control neurons, the neurons from patients with Rett’s exhibited a lack of KCC2. This lack of KCC2 delays the switch of the neurotransmitter GABA from having an excitatory  role to an inhibitory role.

In this study, overexpression of KCC2 restored the GABA functioning.  Researchers used insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF1) which increased the levels of KCC2, thus restoring GABA function. This leads the authors to speculate  that “restoring KCC2 function in Rett neurons may lead to a potential treatment for Rett syndrome.”

This piece of the puzzle brought to you by: “KCC2 rescues functional deficits in human neurons derived from patients with Rett syndrome

Deep brain stimulation in the basolateral amygdala improves symptoms of autism

Amygdala

A 2012 case study reports that “Deep Brain Stimulation in the basolateral amygdala improves symptoms of autism and related self-injurious behavior

A team from Germany reports on the case of a 13-year old boy with autism who was engaging in life-threatening self-injurious behavior.    Doctors implanted a stimulator that could provide inputs to multiple different brain sites (“the paralaminar, the basolateral (BL), the central amygdala as well as the supra-amygdaloid projection system”).

After the surgery, no improvement was seen – at first.   But then they turned on the stimulator.

Parents and clinicians found that stimulating one of those sites, the basolateral amygdala, improved a wide variety of symptoms associated with autism.

The patient experienced a marked decrease in self-injurious behavior.   AND what’s more, he experienced improvements in social behavior,  emotion regulation, and sleep cycle regulation.

After 6 months, he began to utter single words (“Papa”, “Mama”) or sing along with music — actions that would have been impossible before the stimulation.

His dosage of Abilify  could be reduced, his dosage of Lorazepam eliminated.

Researchers conclude that “the amygdala has an important part in the etiopathogenesis of autism” and that the basoloateral nucleus of the amygdala “appears to be pivotal”.    Not only did they find the deep-brain stimulation  to be effective, but they also found it “did not evoke any side-effects”.

 

Another  brick in the wall, thanks to:

Sturm V, Fricke O, Bührle CP, Lenartz D, Maarouf M, Treuer H, Mai JK and Lehmkuhl G (2013) DBS in the basolateral amygdala improves symptoms of autism and related self-injurious behavior: a case report and hypothesis on the pathogenesis of the disorder. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 6:341. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00341