Can an existing drug offer a novel therapy for the fundamental signs of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), even if it hasn’t previously been linked to the illness? This query was made in a recent research. The scientists created a computer model that contained the proteins and interactions of ASD-related proteins.
The journal Frontiers in Pharmacology published the study’s findings. They discovered possible treatment options by examining how various drugs altered the system’s proteins. The most likely possibility was loperamide, an antidiarrheal medication that is often used, and the researchers have an intriguing theory about how it can function to treat ASD symptoms.
Some of the most common symptoms in ASD involve difficulties with social interaction and communication.
“There are no medications currently approved for the treatment of social communication deficits, the main symptom in ASD,” said Dr Elise Koch of the University of Oslo, lead author on the study. “However, most adults and about half of children and adolescents with ASD are treated with antipsychotic drugs, which have serious side effects or lack efficacy in ASD.”
The researchers went to pharmacological repurposing, which entails investigating current medications as prospective therapies for a different ailment, in an effort to discover a new method to treat ASD. The method has several advantages since there is frequently a wealth of information regarding the safety, side effects, and biological molecules that existing pharmaceuticals interact with in the body.
Repurposing drugs as new treatments
The researchers employed a computer-based protein interaction network to find potential therapies for ASD. These networks include proteins and the intricate relationships that exist between them. When investigating biological systems, it is crucial to take this complexity into consideration since changing one protein can frequently have a ripple impact on other proteins.
The scientists built a protein interaction network that contained ASD-related proteins. The team discovered numerous possibilities that interfere with the molecular processes behind ASD by looking at current pharmaceuticals and their interactions with proteins in the network.
The most effective medication is loperamide, which is frequently used to treat diarrhoea. Although it may seem odd that an anti-diarrheal medication might alleviate the primary symptoms of ASD, the researchers have created a theory as to how it might operate.
From an upset gastrointestinal system to ASD
A protein known as the m-opioid receptor, which is often impacted by opioid medications like morphine, is bound to and activated byloperamide. The m-opioid receptor impacts social behaviour in addition to the typical benefits of an opioid medication, such as pain alleviation.
Previous research found that genetically altered mice lacking the m-opioid receptor showed social abnormalities resembling those found in ASD. Curiously, medications that stimulate the m-opioid receptor promoted the recovery of social behaviours.
These findings in mice raise the intriguing potential that loperamide or other medications that target the m-opioid receptor may offer a novel strategy for treating the social symptoms associated with ASD, but further research is need to verify this theory.
In any case, the current study demonstrates the power of assuming that old drugs may indeed learn new tricks.
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