Monday, 21 April 2014

Lathosterolosis, cholesterol and autism?

Although intrigued by the findings reported by Pier Luigi Calvo and colleagues [1] describing a "unique case" potentially linking liver functions and cognitive functions with a hat-tip to the presentation of autistic behaviours, I'll readily admit that I am way out of my comfort and competence zones when discussing this paper so please be ready with that pinch of salt.

How do you like your eggs in the morning? @ Wikipedia 
As per what the paper and accompanying press release (see here) indicate, this was a case report of a young girl diagnosed with lathosterolosis [2] - a rare inborn error of metabolism characterised by the accumulation of 5α-Cholest-7-en-3β-ol (lathosterol), an intermediate compound tied into the metabolism of cholesterol - and her changing clinical presentation following a liver transplant. The authors note that this was the "only surviving patient with lathosterolosis" such is the seriousness of the condition.

In case you want the real heavy biochemistry, have a look at the paper by Brunetti-Pierri and colleagues [3] discussing all-things lathosterolosis and in particular, the crucial part played by the enzyme 3-beta-hydroxysteroid-delta-5-desaturase (sterol-C5-desaturase or SC5D) in the condition.

The suggestion from the Calvo study that "timely liver transplantation might arrest the progression of neurological damage caused by diseases related to problems with cholesterol production" whilst sounding pretty invasive is nonetheless, of potential importance to a wider area of research. The details of outcome describing "a complete biochemical recovery, an arrest of mental deterioration and a stable MRI picture" at 5-year follow-up are nothing short of remarkable.

As far as I can make out, quite a bit of the discussion where autism or autistic behaviours is mentioned revolves around the correlation between issues with social interaction, exploration of her environment and cholesterol biosynthesis, and what happened when cholesterol levels were normalised as a consequence of the liver transplant. Certainly this is not the first time that cholesterol and autism have been mentioned in the same breath together. In a post going back some years now, I talked about the various research in this area, and specifically a condition called Smith-Lemi Opitz syndrome (SLOS) which represents the prototypical 'issues with cholesterol formation can affect physiology and behaviour' condition. The paper by Sikora and colleagues [4] titled: 'The near universal presence of autism spectrum disorders in children with Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome' kinda hinted at the link between SLOS and the presentation of autism/autistic behaviours, compounded by other data [5] (open-access here) correlating low cholesterol levels and autism in some cases. Remember: autisms not autism.

Just in case anyone gets the wrong idea about my interpretation of this research, I'm not for one minute suggesting that a liver transplant is indicated for cases of autism outside of when medically required. As the study author notes: "We were dealing with a unique case—literally, as the child is the only known surviving patient with the condition—so it is difficult drawing inferences of broader significance". That however the liver provides an indispensable array of functions (see here too) might however mean that any whole body research approach applied to autism (not just looking at the grey/pinkish matter floating in the skull) might include some basic analysis of it's function too. As noted from other research in this area such as that included in the paper by Horvath & Perman [4] discussing sulphation (sulfation) capacity of the liver and cases of autism, there is potentially more to do in this area. Other work by Wakefield and colleagues [6] (open-access here) suggesting that: "hepatic encephalopathy represents a prototypic afferent gut–brain interaction that may provide insight into other encephalopathic states that have been linked to extra-cranial pathology", might also provide some food for thought in this area too.

Finally, continuing the possibility of a cholesterol connection to some autisms, I'll refer you back to some very interesting data talked about on the SFARI blog last year (2013) on the possibility of statins and cholesterol supplements as areas of future investigation (with no medical or clinical advice given or intended). A hat-tip also goes to Peter over at the Epiphany blog and his series of articles on statins and autism too with some accompanying information about side-effects too [7].

Music to close. And after recently watching the documentary on the reformation of the Stone Roses, a pretty famous song... Waterfall and memories of growing up listening to the Stone Roses the first time around come flooding back. 


[1] Calvo PL. et al. Liver transplantation in defects of cholesterol biosynthesis: the case of lathosterolosis. Am J Transplant. 2014. March 12.

[2] Krakowiak PA. et al. Lathosterolosis: an inborn error of human and murine cholesterol synthesis due to lathosterol 5-desaturase deficiency. Hum Mol Genet. 2003 Jul 1;12(13):1631-41.

[3] Brunetti-Pierri N. et al. Lathosterolosis, a Novel Multiple-Malformation/Mental Retardation Syndrome Due to Deficiency of 3β-Hydroxysteroid-Δ5-Desaturase. Am J Hum Genet. Oct 2002; 71(4): 952–958.

[4] Sikora DM. et al. The near universal presence of autism spectrum disorders in children with Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome. Am J Med Genet A. 2006 Jul 15;140(14):1511-8.

[5] Horvath K. & Perman JA. Autism and gastrointestinal symptoms. Curr Gastroenterol Rep. 2002 Jun;4(3):251-8.

[6] Wakefield AJ. et al. Review article: the concept of entero-colonic encephalopathy, autism and opioid receptor ligands. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2002 Apr;16(4):663-74.

[7] Finegold JA. et al. What proportion of symptomatic side effects in patients taking statins are genuinely caused by the drug? Systematic review of randomized placebo-controlled trials to aid individual patient choice. Euro J Preventive Cardiology. 2014;  March 12.

---------- Calvo, P., Brunati, A., Spada, M., Romagnoli, R., Corso, G., Parenti, G., Rossi, M., Baldi, M., Carbonaro, G., David, E., Pucci, A., Amoroso, A., & Salizzoni, M. (2014). Liver Transplantation in Defects of Cholesterol Biosynthesis: The Case of Lathosterolosis American Journal of Transplantation DOI: 10.1111/ajt.12645