Anti-diarrhoea drugs may help treat the main signs of autism
As of now, there are no effective treatments for the main symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), such as having trouble communicating and getting along with other people. In a new study, a computer-based network of how proteins interact is used to find out if existing drugs could be used in a new way to treat a disease. Researchers found that a common medicine for diarrhoea might be able to help treat the social problems that come with ASD.
Can an old drug learn new tricks? Even though there are no drug treatments for the core symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), could an existing drug be used as a new treatment, even if it has never been linked to ASD before? This is what a new study in the journal Frontiers in Pharmacology wanted to find out. The researchers used a computer model that shows how the proteins that are involved in ASD work together.
They found possible ways to treat it by looking at how different drugs affected proteins in the system. The most promising drug was loperamide, which is used to treat diarrhoea. Researchers have an interesting idea about how it might work to treat ASD symptoms. Some of the most common signs of ASD are trouble getting along with other people and talking to them.
The study's lead author, Dr Elise Koch of the University of Oslo, said, "There are no medications that are currently approved to treat problems with social communication, which is the main sign of ASD." "However, most adults and about half of children and teens with ASD are treated with antipsychotic drugs, which have serious side effects or don't work for ASD."
Putting old drugs to use as new treatments
In order to find a new way to treat ASD, the researchers turned to drug repurposing. This is the process of looking at how existing drugs could be used to treat a different condition. There are many good things about this method since we know a lot about how safe existing drugs are, what side effects they have, and how they interact with biological molecules in the body.
Researchers used a computer program called a "protein interaction network" to find new ways to treat ASD. These networks include proteins and the complicated ways they work together. When studying biological systems, it is important to take this complexity into account, because changing one protein can often have effects on other proteins.
Researchers made a network of how proteins interact that included proteins linked to ASD. By looking at how existing drugs interact with proteins in the network, the team found a few candidates that could stop the biological processes that cause ASD.
Loperamide, which is often used to treat diarrhoea, is the most promising drug. Even though it might seem strange that a drug used to treat diarrhoea could help with core ASD symptoms, researchers have a theory about how it might work.
From a stomachache to the autism spectrum disorder
Loperamide binds to a protein called the -opioid receptor and turns it on. This is how opioid drugs like morphine normally work. In addition to the effects you'd expect from an opioid drug, like pain relief, the -opioid receptor also changes how people act around each other.
In past research, mice that had their genes changed so that they didn't have the -opioid receptor showed social problems that are similar to those seen in people with ASD. Drugs that activate the -opioid receptor, which is interesting, helped to bring back social behaviours.
These results in mice suggest that loperamide or other drugs that target the -opioid receptor might be a new way to treat the social problems that come with ASD, but more research is needed to test this idea. In any case, this study shows how important it is to think that old drugs can learn new tricks.