There are currently no effective treatments for the core symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), such as problems with socializing and communicating. A new study uses a computer-based protein interaction network to determine whether existing drugs could provide a new treatment approach. The researchers found that a commonly used antidiarrheal drug may have potential in treating the social problems associated with ASD.
Can you teach an old medicine new tricks? While drug treatments for the core symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are not currently available, could an existing drug provide a new treatment even if it was previously unrelated to ASD? This was the question of a new study in the journal Frontiers in Pharmacology. The researchers used a computer model that includes proteins involved in ASD and the way they interact.
By looking at how different drugs affect the proteins in the system, they identified potential candidates to treat it. A widely used antidiarrheal drug called loperamide was the most promising candidate, and the researchers have an interesting hypothesis about how it might work to treat ASD symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms in ASD are problems with social interaction and communication.
“There are currently no drugs approved for the treatment of social communication disorders, the main symptom in ASD,” says Dr. Elise Koch of the University of Oslo, lead author of the study. “However, most adults and about half of children and adolescents with ASD are treated with antipsychotics, which have serious side effects or have no efficacy in ASD.”
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Re-using drugs as new treatments
In an effort to find a new way to treat ASD, the researchers turned to drug reuse, exploring existing drugs as possible treatments for another condition. The approach has many advantages, as there is often extensive knowledge about existing drugs in terms of their safety, side effects and the biological molecules they interact with in the body.
To identify new treatments for ASD, the researchers used a computer-based protein interaction network. Such networks include proteins and the complex interactions between them. It is important to account for this complexity when studying biological systems, as influencing one protein can often have knock-on effects elsewhere.
The researchers constructed a protein interaction network with proteins associated with ASD. By examining existing drugs and their interaction with proteins in the network, the team identified several candidates that counteract the biological process underlying ASD.
The most promising drug is loperamide, which is often used for diarrhea. While it may seem strange that an antidiarrheal drug can treat the main symptoms of ASD, the researchers have developed a hypothesis about how it might work.
From a disturbed gastrointestinal tract to ASD
Loperamide binds to and activates a protein called the -opioid receptor, which is normally affected by opioid drugs, such as morphine. In addition to the effects you would normally expect from an opioid drug, such as pain relief, the μ-opioid receptor also influences social behavior.
In previous studies, genetically engineered mice lacking the -opioid receptor showed social deficits similar to those seen in ASD. Interestingly, drugs that activate the -opioid receptor helped restore social behavior.
These results in mice highlight the tantalizing possibility that loperamide, or other drugs that target the -opioid receptor, may represent a new way to treat the social symptoms present in ASD, but more work is needed to substantiate this hypothesis. To test. In any case, the current study demonstrates the power of the assumption that old drugs can indeed learn new tricks.
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