Israeli study reveals potential future method for reducing symptoms of autism

Illustrative: A young man with autism. (KatarzynaBialasiewicz/ iStock/ Getty Images)
Illustrative: A young man with autism. (KatarzynaBialasiewicz/ iStock/ Getty Images)

Researchers from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem publish a first-of-its-kind study revealing a potential future method for reducing the symptoms of autism among those diagnosed with the common developmental disorder.

Dr. Haitham Amal and his team from the School of Pharmacy in the Faculty of Medicine have discovered a direct connection between levels of nitric oxide (NO) in the brain and autism, the university says in a statement.

The study, conducted on mice and published today in the peer-reviewed Advanced Science journal, demonstrates that autism indicators increases as NO increases in the brain, and that autism indicators and behavior decrease as the levels of NO in the brains of murine models of autism are lowered “in a proactive and controlled manner.”

“Our research showed – in an extraordinary way – that inhibiting the production of NO, specifically in brain neuron cells in mouse models of autism, causes a decrease in autism-like symptoms,” says Dr. Amal. “By inhibiting the production of NO on laboratory animals, they became more ‘social’ and less repetitiveness was observed in their behavior. Additionally, the animals showed interest in new objects and were less anxious. Finally, the decrease in NO levels led to a significant improvement in neuronal indices.”

The study results are also based on tests conducted using human stem cells and clinical blood samples from children with low-functioning autism, the statement says.

“This research is a significant breakthrough in autism research, with the first direct connection made between an increase in the concentration of NO in the brain and autistic behavior,” says Amal. “This discovery can have implications on the relationship of NO with other neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, or psychiatric diseases, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

“I am hopeful that with our new understanding of the NO mechanism, we can begin to develop therapeutic drugs and help millions of children and adults living with autism around the world.”

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