Monday, 19 March 2018

One more time... ADHD is over-represented in cases of epilepsy

"Among the 73 children with epilepsy, 23% (n = 17) had comorbid ADHD [attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder], of whom 59% (n = 10) had predominantly inattentive type, 35% (n = 6) combined type, and 6% (n = 1) predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type."

So said the findings reported by Anita Choudhary and colleagues [1] adding to an ever growing body of peer-reviewed research literature suggesting that a diagnosis of epilepsy may, for whatever reason(s), elevate the risk of ADHD being diagnosed or, at the very least, the symptoms of ADHD occurring (see here).

This time around, Choudhary et al focused on data derived from a children's neurology service where epilepsy was "defined as two or more unprovoked seizures occurring 24 hours apart after four weeks of age, with at least one epileptic seizure in the previous five years, regardless of AED [anti epileptic drugtreatment, based on International League Against Epilepsy definitions."

As per the opening sentence, some 73 children aged 6-12 years old met their study eligibility criteria; being part of a larger trial where data on behavioural comorbidity in the context of epilepsy had already been published [2]. Importantly for this latest study, the authors excluded those who "had an intellectual disability or comorbid chronic systemic disease" which seems to be rather relevant to the clinical picture emerging with regards to epilepsy in the context of a condition 'over-represented' in ADHD, autism (see here). Alongside a behavioural/psychiatric evaluation based first on parent/caregiver ratings and if required, followed up with a more professional consultation, researchers also carried out assessments related to cognitive functions and reviewed health records.

Aside from noting that ADHD seemed to be over-represented among their cohort with epilepsy, authors also talked about a couple of variables that also seemed to be important to the presentation of ADHD in those with epilepsy. So: "Children with both epilepsy and ADHD had lower IQ scores and were significantly less likely to be attending school, with epilepsy being the primary reason." That point about the presence of epilepsy *correlating* with lower IQ scores is not necessarily something prevalent across the research in this area, but some authors have talked about a "subgroup of about 10–25% of children that shows a clinically significant intellectual decline" [3] which could potentially be relevant.

Pertinent biological mechanisms crossing both epilepsy and ADHD? Well similar to the last blogging occasion, one has to mention that epilepsy does affect various brain functions (see here) so that is something to consider as also impacting the likelihood of ADHD. Whether this means affecting something structural or something like connectivity, we just don't know at present. I'm also minded to highlight the possibility of genetic overlaps too; drawing on work in autism where autism genes are not just genes for autism (see here) so one might consider a similar scenario pertained for at least some with the epilepsy-ADHD diagnostic combination...


[1] Choudhary A. et al. Childhood epilepsy and ADHD comorbidity in an Indian tertiary medical center outpatient population. Sci Rep. 2018 Feb 8;8(1):2670.

[2] Choudhary A. et al. Behavioral comorbidity in children and adolescents with epilepsy. J Clin Neurosci. 2014 Aug;21(8):1337-40.

[3] Vingerhoets G. Cognitive effects of seizures. Seizure. 2006; 15: 221-226.


Saturday, 17 March 2018

"specificity for diagnosis was relatively low": the psychometric properties of autism diagnostic measures

The quote accompanying this fairly brief post - "specificity for diagnosis was relatively low" - comes from the findings reported by Sarah Wigham and colleagues [1] who undertook a systematic review of various "structured questionnaires and diagnostic measures" used in the assessment of autism in adults.

Their conclusions, based on some 20 studies identified in the current peer-reviewed literature, suggest that 'could do better' is a phrase best suited to various measures currently used to identify adults with autism, particularly in the context of an often complicated clinical picture (see here).

Similar things have already been discussed on this blog (see here for one example). In particular, how individual self-report 'are you autistic?' screening instruments whilst making good 'pop psychology' (see here) are absolutely no match for a thorough professional clinical assessment, save other important diagnoses/conditions being overlooked and going unmanaged (see here and see here). I know this puts the concept of 'self-diagnosis' as a result of the use of such instruments in some hot water, but as in many other branches of medicine and psychiatry, professionals and the assessments they conduct are there for a very good reason. Whether you can access such assessments in a timely fashion is an entirely different issue...

When I first tweeted about this paper being published, I emphasised one author on the Wigham paper in particular: Dr Tom Berney. The reasoning behind this was because of his involvement/link to research that has looked at how we identify adults with autism here in Blighty on the back of some headlines a few years back on estimating how many adults have autism here (see here). He, alongside some other notable authors who highlighted that '1% of adults with autism' figure, also talked about how some of the screening/assessment instruments used in that study weren't really cutting the epidemiological mustard [2]. It appears they might have been right.

So what lessons can be learned from this recent review? Well first, that whilst autism-related behavioural dimensions are vitally important to a diagnosis of autism, they are not universally specific to a diagnosis of autism, is important. Second is the need to perhaps move away from often very brief autism screening instruments that seem to provide a 'quick snapshot' to something rather more far-reaching and comprehensive. I know we all want a 'quick answer' that uses as few finite resources as possible, but sometimes, to get something right, you need to spend time and resources looking at it carefully. And diagnosing professionals also need to be mindful of notions of 'frank autism' too (see here). Finally, I'd like to re-emphasise that autism plus [3] does seem to be more typical these days, over autism appearing in some sort of diagnostic vacuum. As Wigham et al opine: "Robust autism spectrum disorder assessment tools specifically for use in adult diagnostic health services in the presence of co-occurring mental health and neurodevelopmental disorders are a research priority." Indeed they are.


[1] Wigham S. et al. Psychometric properties of questionnaires and diagnostic measures for autism spectrum disorders in adults: A systematic review. Autism. 2018 Feb 1:1362361317748245.

[2] Brugha TS. et al. Validating two survey methods for identifying cases of autism spectrum disorder among adults in the community. Psychol Med. 2012 Mar;42(3):647-56.


Friday, 16 March 2018

Carefully: effect of SSRI use on "rating-scale-assessed suicidality in adults with depression"

I stress the word 'carefully' in the title of this post discussing the findings reported by Jakob Näslund and colleagues [1] because it covers the very sensitive idea that "selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) have been claimed to elicit or aggravate suicidal ideation."

I think it's sensible to begin this post by stressing that (a) NO medical or clinical advice is given or intended on this blog, and (b) anyone with concerns about their taking this class of medicines really needs to speak to their physician BEFORE making any changes to their prescribed medication routine. I know that point (b) sounds like me giving medical / clinical advice but it's common sense to talk to your medical professional first who's spent years studying and probably years practising medicine, rather than tinker around yourself...

There is always a balancing act to consider when discussing research such as this. A medicine indicated for various clinical conditions, that is taken by many, many people, and quite successfully treating / treated (nay, very successfully [2]) a condition that can, without treatment, have life-limiting consequences. No-one wants to rock the boat and scare or deter people from accessing such a treatment. At the same time however, one needs to know everything about that medicine; not least whether for some, there may be side-effects to possibly consider...

It's been a quite a long running saga talking about the possible additional effects of SSRI use for some (see here). It's drawn heavily on often harrowing individual stories and perspectives and not also been helped by the seeming (in)actions of some of the manufacturers of such medicines (see here). Näslund et al decided to approach this delicate topic from the point of view of analysing "the effect of [SSRI] treatment on rating-scale-assessed suicidal ideation in individual patients." This is distinct from other work that has focused on actual suicides or "suicide-related adverse events" that have been carried out before. The authors suggested that their approach might have the advantages of measuring the "net influence of treatment on suicidality at a group level" as well as the ability to "detect individual cases of emergence or aggravation of suicidal ideation." To this end, scores on the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HRSD) particularly focused on "item 3 of the HRSD" covering suicidal ideation/attempts, was a core feature of their study covering "young adults (18–24) (n = 537) and adults (≥25) (n = 7725)." Said participants were derived from "all industry-sponsored, HRSD-based, FDA-registered placebo-controlled studies undertaken to explore the effects of citalopram, paroxetine or sertraline in major depression in adults."

Results: "In patients above the age of 24, SSRIs were found to reduce the mean rating of the HRSD suicidality item from week 1 until study end-point and also to reduce the risk for aggravation of suicidal ideation and emergent suicidal behaviour." This is very good news. It provides "strong support for the view that the net effect of SSRI treatment is beneficial rather than harmful" when it comes to suicide ideation/contemplation bearing in mind the specific focus on on item on the HRSD. I will again link to the recent findings by Cipriani and colleagues [2] reporting that: "All antidepressants were more efficacious than placebo in adults with major depressive disorder." It doesn't, as Näslund et al suggest, rule out rare cases of 'adverse effects', but does suggest that any such extreme side-effects are not likely to be encountered by most people who take such medicines.

When however it came to those younger adults (aged 18-24 years), the results were a little less straight-forward. So: "In young adults, those given an SSRI were at enhanced risk for worsening of suicidal ideation (in the unadjusted analysis) or emergent suicidality (loose but not strict definition) during the late (weeks 3–6) but not the early phase (weeks 1–2) of treatment." You'll see from the number of brackets used in that last quote that the authors provide some caveats to such findings; but this shouldn't take away from the trends observed. Indeed, bearing in mind such findings and also that "both SSRIs and placebo resulted in an end-point rating of suicidality equal to that observed in adults given an SSRI and lower than that observed in adults given placebo" you kinda get the impression that further investigations are needed to ascertain for example, whether depression and/or suicidality in the 25 and overs is somehow 'different' from depression in the younger age group. At least, different insofar as what treatment choices might be primarily made available. No, I'm not saying that this is evidence enough that SSRIs should have some sort of age restriction, just that cost/benefit ratios might perhaps have to be a little more 'age-sensitive' as well as individual-sensitive.

And, if anyone needs someone to talk to, there are resources available.


[1] Näslund J. et al. Effects of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors on rating-scale-assessed suicidality in adults with depression. Br J Psychiatry. 2018 Feb 5:1-7.

[2] Cipriani A. et al. Comparative efficacy and acceptability of 21 antidepressant drugs for the acute treatment of adults with major depressive disorder: a systematic review and network meta-analysis. Lancet. 2018. Feb 21.


Thursday, 15 March 2018

Childhood ADHD and vitamin D meta-analysed

The results of the systematic review and meta-analysis published by Yadollah Khoshbakht and colleagues [1] (open-access available here) make for interesting, if not totally unexpected, reading.

Covering the existing peer-reviewed research literature (up to June 2017) on the topic of vitamin D status and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), researchers concluded that: "The present review provides evidence supporting the relation between vitamin D deficiency and ADHD."

Vitamin D and ADHD is a topic already covered on this blog (see here). The general direction of findings so far have kinda mirrored that seen in other developmental diagnoses such as autism, insofar as vitamin D deficiency / insufficiency as measured by concentrations of 25-hydroxyvitamin D, tending to be pretty over-represented alongside the label (see here). It's perhaps also pertinent to mention that the diagnostic combination of autism and ADHD seems to be quite widespread (see here); particularly in these days of ESSENCE or autism plus (see here). This could very well have a bearing on any observations obtained as per other examples in other areas (see here).


Khoshbakht et al looked at various studies and aspects of studies as part of their analyses. They also pre-registered their intention to undertake some research on vitamin D and ADHD as per a PROSPERO entry (see here) containing some details on hows-and-whys.

From various 'retrieved articles' numbering in the thousands, authors eventually settled on 13 studies ("9 case-control or cross-sectional studies and 4 prospective studies") that examined "the association between vitamin D concentration and the risk of ADHD." The final cumulative study participant number was not bad at all: "3484 patients with ADHD (2183 from the case-control and cross-sectional studies, 1301 from the prospective studies) and 11,837 healthy children (8151 from the case-control and cross-sectional studies, 3686 from the prospective studies) aged between 5 and 18 y were included." Authors also noted that various methods were used to measure 25-hydroxyvitamin D - 25(OH)D - ranging from the gold-standard that is liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) to something perhaps a little less accurate e.g. high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) minus the mass spec bit. All-in-all however, most studies were judged to be of moderate or high quality.

Results: "we found modest but significant lower serum vitamin D concentrations in children and adolescents with ADHD compared with healthy control subjects." Based on 9 studies where "the mean ± SD vitamin D concentrations in subjects with and without ADHD" was reported, authors concluded that "children with ADHD had 6.93 ng/mL lower serum vitamin D concentrations compared with healthy controls." And that wasn't all, as authors also looked at prospective studies where for example, vitamin D was measured in maternal serum or umbilical cord blood and then mapped onto risk of ADHD in offspring. With this type of study in mind, they observed that: "lower maternal or cord serum vitamin D concentrations increase the risk of developing ADHD in childhood or adolescence by 40%" albeit with some statistical caveats.

Khoshbakht and colleagues provide some possible pointers about how vitamin D *might* influence the pathophysiology of ADHD. They for example, mention an enzyme that I've been pretty interested in down the years - tryptophan hydroxylase 2 (TPH2) - and how the starting gene for this enzyme has been both linked to ADHD [2] in some studies (but not others). Further: "The TPH2 gene is activated by vitamin D hormone through its vitamin D response element." Personally, I find this interesting but not intellectually satisfying enough to provide an authoritative explanation for any effects of vitamin D deficiency on ADHD. Going also back to the vitamin D story with autism in mind, I'd like to think lessons could be learned about more particular vitamin D genetics (see here) and what role they might also play with regards to ADHD too. There are no doubt other pertinent mechanisms too.

There is still more research to do when it comes to vitamin D and ADHD of that there is no doubt. Again, going back to the relationship between ADHD and autism, I'm wondering whether more focus needs to be on this diagnostic combination (and perhaps other overlaps too) to ascertain whether one condition / label over another shows any stronger relationship with vitamin D levels. In light also of other meta-analysis work talking about lower vitamin D levels being linked to 'poorer cognition' (see here) for example, one might also reasonably suggest that an even broader research agenda might need to be followed.

And then there's the question of supplementation (see here) to consider and whether it may / may not do more than just raise vitamin D levels [3]? Oh wait, and there's more [4]...


[1] Khoshbakht Y. et al. Vitamin D Status and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies. Adv Nutr. 2018 Jan 1;9(1):9-20.

[2] Park TW. et al. Association between TPH2 gene polymorphisms and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in Korean children. Genet Test Mol Biomarkers. 2013 Apr;17(4):301-6.

[3] Elshorbagy HH. et al. The Impact of Vitamin D Supplementation on Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in Children. Ann Pharmacother. 2018 Feb 1:1060028018759471.

[4] Sahin N. et al. Vitamin D and vitamin D receptor levels in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2018 Feb 19;14:581-585.


Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Bullying and autism: not always originating from where you might expect...

There is something rather uncomfortable about the findings reported by Imar Toseeb and colleagues [1] but, at the same time, they do raise an important issue that needs to be openly discussed. Specifically their findings on: "sibling bullying, and the associated psychopathological adversities, in children with and without ASD [autism spectrum disorder]" deserve some airtime.

Bullying and autism is quite a regular talking point in the peer-reviewed research literature (see here) and beyond. Although a diagnosis of autism is by no means protective of someone becoming a bully or being involved in what could be considered bullying behaviour, it is far more typical that those with autism are going to be a victim of bullying rather than perpetrator (see here). Indeed, I reluctantly use the word 'vulnerable' yet again on this occasion but...

When one thinks about bullying in any context including that with autism in mind I would imagine that the school bully who name calls or becomes physical aggressive towards someone - usually smaller and quieter than them - probably first springs to mind. Siblings by contrast, conjure up an image of being caring, supportive and again, with autism in mind, often very protective of their brother(s) and/or sister(s) given their important role, present and probably future. And indeed, many, many siblings are just that (see here).

But real life is rarely so clear-cut or 'homogeneous' as many parents, whether with children diagnosed with autism or not, will attest. Siblings argue, fight and probably because of how well they 'know each other', often know all the right buttons to press to get their required reaction. And yes, behaviour sometimes can spill over to what would be considered bullying under any other circumstance...

Toseeb et al started with the hypothesis that: "children with ASD (child has ASD but their sibling does not) would experience higher levels of sibling bullying compared to those without ASD (child and sibling do not have ASD)." They arrived at this hypothesis on the basis of various factors such as a role for the social-communicative issues that follow autism, the possible effect of the 'broader autism phenotype' (BAP) on siblings, and issues such as a greater frequency of aggression - "reactive aggression" - accompanying particularly boys with autism.

They relied on data from the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) (a resource that has been mentioned before on this blog) and eventually included data from nearly 500 children with autism alongside over 13,000 not-autism controls. The question(s) on sibling bullying were asked at 11 years of age and went: "he/she was asked to respond to two questions on a six-point scale (never, less often, every few months, approximately once a month, approximately once a week, most days): “how often do your brothers or sisters hurt you or pick on you on purpose?” (victimization) and “how often do you hurt or pick on your brothers or sisters on purpose?” (perpetration)." Responses were coded according to who did what and how often. Various other measures were also examined as part of the MCS and used in the Toseeb paper: socio-demographic data (single parent status, birth order, number of siblings, household incomes), parenting style, psychopathology and cognition.

Results: children diagnosed with autism or ASD were more likely to be bullied by their non-autistic sibling compared with those who did not have autism. This finding held "even after controlling for socio-demographic and family level variables" and "was associated with adverse psychopathologies." Further: "having ASD, being a girl, of White ethnicity, having more siblings, and experiencing harsher parenting were all associated with increased odds of being bullied by a sibling." Whilst we're on the topic of 'adverse psychopathologies, it's perhaps pertinent to mention the findings reported by Dantchev and colleagues [2] observing a possible connection between sibling bullying receipt and psychotic disorder. Yes, it is quite an extreme example, but nonetheless demonstrates the effects bullying can have long-term. I might also refer you back to some discussion arising from the ICF core sets development with autism in mind too (see here).

I digress. I note also that authors discuss sibling bullying as a two-way street: "Our findings indicate that children with ASD are specifically at increased risk of sibling victimization as a bully-victim."

As I said at the beginning of this post, this all makes for uncomfortable reading. If it's not bad enough that a child may be being bullied at school to also then potentially learn that there is little respite from such behaviour at home, makes for an uncomfortable (intolerable?) situation all-round. The question then arises minus any sweeping generalisations: what can be done about sibling bullying for the good of all concerned? And please, don't just solely suggest 'coping strategies' for the bullying victim either.


[1] Toseeb U. et al. The Prevalence and Psychopathological Correlates of Sibling Bullying in Children with and without Autism Spectrum Disorder. J Autism Dev Disord. 2018 Feb 8.

[2] Dantchev S. et al. Sibling bullying in middle childhood and psychotic disorder at 18 years: a prospective cohort study. Psychological Medicine. 2018. Feb 12.


Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Regression in autism: the rule rather than the exception?

"Declining trajectories of development, consistent with a regressive onset pattern, are common in children with ASD [autism spectrum disorder] and may be more the rule than the exception."

So said the findings reported by Sally Ozonoff and colleagues [1] who reported results based on a study of developmental / behavioural regression in autism, and specifically: "how rates of regression differed by measurement method."

Regression in relation to autism is a topic I've covered a few times on this blog (see here and see here for examples). I've followed the [peer-reviewed] story from where behavioural and/or developmental regression was initially thought to be a figment of the [parental] imagination, right up to these days where regression is pretty much accepted as being part and parcel of quite a few cases of autism. The road has not been a smooth one; but the question of whether autism is universally something inborn and hereditary for everyone is slowly starting to be answered: no, it is probably not. The reason(s) for regression still remain fertile grounds for discussion / debate / argument, but there are some important clues in the science literature (see here and see here for examples) with the caveats that autism is a very heterogeneous condition and onset patterns are likely to be influenced by all-manner of different variables. Think different phenotypes in the context of autism (see here) for example; and that's outside of the label previously known as Heller's syndrome.

Anyhow, Ozonoff et al report results for infants "with (n = 147) and without a family history of ASD (n = 83)" who were "seen prospectively for up to 7 visits in the first three years of life." Various different ways and means of assessing reports of symptom onset were collected, "that systematically varied the informant (examiner vs. parent), the decision type (categorical [regression absent or present] vs. dimensional [frequency of social behaviors]), and the timing of the assessment (retrospective vs. prospective)."

Depending on who said what and how they said it, patterns of regression in skills were noted in quite a large proportion of the Ozonoff cohort. So: "A majority of the sample was classified as having a regressive onset using either examiner (88%) or parent (69%) prospective dimensional ratings." The authors suggest that their observations highlight how quite a few more resources (and cautions) need to go into looking at symptom onset patterns in relation to autism.

For quite a few people, the findings reported by Ozonoff et al are 'catch-up' rather than something novel. I can think of quite a few instances where parents / guardians have had their important observations - very important observations - described as being 'talked down' when it came to reporting a regression in previously acquired skills in the context of autism. This should no longer be the case; particularly when also set in the context of the increasing pluralisation of the label of autism (see here) and perhaps even, the changing face of autism (see here) compared with yesteryear.

Then to the next important questions: how and why? I've already alluded to a role for infection in relation to the onset of regressive autism for some, but much more data is required on the specific details and mechanisms. There is also the issue of what *might* potentially be done to minimise factors linked to regression in autism too. Minus any sweeping generalisations, I'd also direct your attention to other mentions of regressive autism in the peer-reviewed science literature [2] and where, minus any hype, there could be some important clues for some. The important point once again, is that the diagnosis of autism should be the start of further investigations, not the finishing line.

To close, don't ask me how or why but one of my brood has started watching and enjoying an old staple part of the weekend TV quiz scene in 1980s Blighty... BFH by the way, is most classically referred to as your 'bus fare home'.


[1] Ozonoff S. et al. Onset patterns in autism: Variation across informants, methods, and timing. Autism Res. 2018 Mar 10.

[2] Poling JS. et al. Developmental regression and mitochondrial dysfunction in a child with autism. J Child Neurol. 2006 Feb;21(2):170-2.


Monday, 12 March 2018

"A pilot study of high-dose intravenous immunoglobulin 5% for autism"

Intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG), the treatment of choice for "patients with antibody deficiencies" [1] has some research history when it comes to autism (see here).

Quite a few years back, I remember some chatter about the use of IVIG for at least a subset of children/adults diagnosed with autism [2]. Interest in IVIG subsequently waxed and waned, partly as a result of some politics 'accompanying' research but also because of things like the cost of such an intervention.

Judging by the recent results published by Isaac Melamed and colleagues [3] however, it looks however, like IVIG *might* be coming back into research fashion...

So: "we investigated the efficacy and tolerability of intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) infusion in children with ASD [autism spectrum disorder]." The words "immune dysregulation" and "neuroinflammation" are mentioned a few times in the Melamed paper so you can probably work out the reason(s) why IVIG was examined. I might add that this study appears to have been registered with too (see here).

This was a pilot study so, of course, one always needs to be a little bit cautious when it comes to the study and any findings. But, from what I can see, the authors put in place quite a few 'primary' and 'secondary' endpoints covering various aspects of behaviour - "Children's Communication Checklist [CCC-2], Social Responsiveness Scale [SRS], Aberrant Behavior Checklist [ABC], Clinical Global Impressions-Severity [CGI-S] and -Improvement [CGI-I], Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule [ADOS], and Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test [PPVT]" - and also some 'experimental' biomarkers of immune function in this study. That's quite a comprehensive battery all-in-all.

Based on the use of a "high-dose intravenous immunoglobulin" (1g/kg dose of Gammaplex 5%) for ten 21-day treatment cycles with some 14 research participants diagnosed with autism, researchers reported some signs of 'effect'. Behaviourally speaking, they talk about significant improvements in core areas such as reciprocal social interaction, communication and repetitive and/or stereotyped behaviours being observed. This, alongside significant reductions in "numerous secondary outcomes of immunological biomarkers indicative of neuroinflammation." In short, IVIG seemed to show effects and, importantly: "no subjects withdrew due to an adverse event" providing some well needed 'first, do no harm' data.

One study - an open label study at that - does not an evidence base make. Not even close, and that's despite other open label studies also being published [3] in this area. One also needs to bear in mind that IVIG is a blood product typically derived from more than one donor which, although screened for various infectious diseases, might still leave some people a little nervous about its use.

But... results such as the ones from Melamed cannot be easily ignored. Not least set within the context of a growing interest in immune function being *related* to some autism (see here for example) and specifically where 'regression' seems to be part and parcel of symptom onset (see here and see here), further [controlled] investigations are required. And that includes what happens to any behavioural / immunological gains / changes as and when IVIG intervention is stopped too...


[1] Jolles S. et al. Clinical uses of intravenous immunoglobulin. Clinical and Experimental Immunology. 2005;142(1):1-11.

[2] Gupta S. Treatment of children with autism with intravenous immunoglobulin. J Child Neurol. 1999 Mar;14(3):203-5.

[3] Melamed IR. et al. A pilot study of high-dose intravenous immunoglobulin 5% for autism: Impact on autism spectrum and markers of neuroinflammation. Autism Res. 2018 Feb 10.

[4] Boris M. et al. Improvement in children with autism treated with intravenous gamma globulin. Journal of Nutritional & Environmental Medicine. 2005; 15.


Saturday, 10 March 2018

The ICF core sets for autism in action

The findings reported by Soheil Mahdi and colleagues [1] (open-access available here) reiterate that 2018 looks like being the year of the ICF core sets for autism.

Having covered this topic yet again only recently (see here), I'm back to talking about the core sets and, once again, get to use the beautiful word 'melange' with reference to the "complex melange of functioning experiences beyond the diagnosis" of autism.

This time around it was about trying to "capture aspects of functioning and contextual factors pertaining to individuals with ASD [autism spectrum disorder] as assessed by the ICF-CY [International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF, and Children and Youth version, ICF-CY)] in a clinical practice setting." I must admit to making a cold shudder when seeing the words: "The ICF-CY is grounded on an interactive bio-psycho-social model of functioning" in light of what the biopsychosocial model has 'done' to other conditions (see here). But in this case, I'm willing to give it the benefit of the doubt... at least for now.

So, from a starting participant group of 126 children, adolescents and adults with ASD (even though researchers used the children and youth version of the ICF), this number was slightly whittled down to some 122 who completed the study. It was a worldwide effort, as participants were drawn from 10 countries and, perhaps notably, the United States and United Kingdom were not among the countries taking part on this occasion. I was pleased to read that inclusion criteria for the study was a diagnosis of autism of course, but also did not exclude participants who also presented with "any given common co-morbidity." This, in light of 'autism plus' perhaps being more 'realistic' than autism appearing in some sort of diagnostic vacuum (see here).

Results: "In total, 139 of 161 ICF-CY categories assessed met the cut-off in at least 10% of the participants." The authors observed that this included "64 categories in the activities and participation component, 40 body functions and 35 environmental factors." Although you can look for yourself what issues/factors are included under those headings, I might point out a few of interest including the handling stress and other psychological demands, sensory functions and pain, functions of the digestive, metabolic and endocrine systems and the role of immediate family.

Continuing: "Examples of supportive personal factors included high IQ, acceptance towards own diagnosis and specific interests (e.g., art, sports)." These are also interesting. The role of 'acceptance towards own diagnosis' is something that has cropped up before in the peer-reviewed literature (see here). On that research occasion, the authors leaned towards a role for 'others' (external sources) accepting a person with a diagnosis of autism as being potentially 'positive' when it came to good mental health in the context of autism. I was perhaps more sceptical of the primacy of this 'other' influence - based as it was on rating statements such as "over the past week, I have felt accepted by society as an autistic person/person with autism" on a 5-point scale - insofar as 'personal acceptance' potentially being the more important variable. The Mahdi data seems to agree. The other 'supportive' variable, talking about having specific interests such as art or a sport, also tallies with a lot of other independent research findings (see here for an example, also using a certain WHO tool relevant to the ICF core sets for autism).

Onwards: "Past traumatic life events (e.g., getting bullied at school) were mentioned as a hampering personal factor, as it affected the individual’s self-esteem and self-worth." This, alongside various other routes to stress that "exacerbate ASD symptoms", provides some useful information about what could be done to mitigate such negative influences. I'm not sure that it is possible to completely eradicate issues such as perfectionism, but I daresay that it could be minimised through certain talking interventions for example, thus potentially improving quality of life. Insofar as the role bullying might play, well, probably quite a bit (see here) and any efforts to reduce things like bullying at school should be welcomed.

I do want to pass one final comment on the Mahdi data going back to the issue of comorbidity appearing alongside autism. As I've mentioned, this was a study that did not shy away from comorbidity being central to quite a few people diagnosed on the autism spectrum. The types of comorbidity reported included old friends such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), present in about a quarter of participants, and intellectual (learning) disability, present in about 15%. Whilst part of the clinical picture for quite a few, there is always the possibility that some of factors discussed in relation to the ICF core sets for autism *may* be more directly influenced by such comorbidity than by the 'core features' of autism themselves. I guess it doesn't matter if said comorbidity is part of the clinical picture, but if it's not, there may be some assumptions being incorrectly generalised...

And it appears that autism is not alone in its receipt of the ICF core sets treatment [2]...


[1] Mahdi S. et al. An International Clinical Study of Ability and Disability in Autism Spectrum Disorder Using the WHO-ICF Framework. J Autism Dev Disord. 2018 Feb 8.

[2] Mahdi S. et al. An international clinical study of ability and disability in ADHD using the WHO-ICF framework. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2018 Feb 17.


Friday, 9 March 2018

Physical conditions accompanying intellectual disabilities

By linking to some media discussing the inquest findings for Richard Handley (see here) I don't want to trivialise his death or use it as some kind of 'I told you so' example. Here was a man who died as a result of "gross failures" in his care as someone with Down's syndrome who also had a history of bowel issues. His death, linked to chronic constipation and "as a result of choking on his own vomit having inhaled gastric contents following complications with surgery", represents failures on many different levels. Not least is a seeming lack of appreciation of how bowel issues can very much be part of the clinical profile of many conditions / labels / diagnoses considered within the spectrum of intellectual or learning disabilities. Said issues require both regular monitoring and appropriate and timely intervention.

It is perhaps notable then that the paper by Deborah Kinnear and colleagues [1] is published these days, highlighting how various physical conditions are over-represented alongside diagnoses characterised by intellectual (learning) disability. The authors reported that: "The five most prevalent were visual impairment, obesity, epilepsy, constipation and ataxic/gait disorders."

Based on the examination of data for "people with intellectual disabilities living within the geographical area of Greater Glasgow Health Board, Scotland" between 2002 and 2004, researchers reviewed case records and "completed a comprehensive semi-structured health interview and targeted physical examination and followed a phlebotomy protocol, with the person with intellectual disabilities and their carer." This was time consuming affair - the "complete assessment process took about 4 hours per participant" - covering over 1000 people.

Alongside the reporting of those 'top five most prevalent conditions', researchers also observed several other important details. Namely that nearly all of their cohort had a least one co-existing health condition. The average number of comorbid conditions was 11. Yes, that's 11. And some people had over 25 comorbid physical conditions. When also taking into account the presence or not of Down's syndrome, not much changed in relation to the detected physical comorbidity. Similarly, when age and sex/gender were examined, the authors concluded that there only minor differences noted in terms of comorbidity profiles for example.

Relevant to the case of Richard Handley are some discussions in the Kinnear paper about constipation and learning disability. So: "Constipation was the fourth most prevalent physical health condition." Further, they note in another study [2]: "Eight people with chronic constipation had serious side effects (rectal prolapse, diverticula of colon, intestinal obstruction, megacolon and haemorrhoids) and four eventually died of intestinal obstruction... Thus, as well as being painful, constipation may remain undetected for a long time and can cause death due to missed clinical symptoms." Constipation can cause death. It shouldn't in this day and age, but it still does...

In relation to the implications of their findings, the authors make some additional comments. So: "Medical education is also focused on assessment and management of single conditions, yet management of multimorbidity is far more complex." This is important. It implies that outside of the view of one [primary] diagnosis being present per patient, clinicians and others need to have a more plural view, particularly when it comes to something like learning disability. The focus also on 'physical' comorbidities is also important insofar as how various developmental / behavioural / psychiatric conditions can very much manifest other non-developmental / behavioural / psychiatric conditions. This kinda mirrors what has been discussed with autism in mind (see here and see here for examples) and, alongside, the barriers that need to be overcome when it comes to appropriate diagnoses being made in such contexts (see here).

Set within other data indicating that premature mortality is very much over-represented when it comes to learning disability (see here), and that much of that early mortality is due to the presence of physical health conditions, the Kinnear findings should serve as a wake-up call to many sectors of the professional and other communities. Screening, diagnosing and implementing timely and appropriate intervention(s) are key recommendations; with a specific focus on the person as a whole rather than just being the sum of individual somethings like the diagnosis of learning disability. Bear in mind also that guidance on the management of something like constipation in the context of learning disability does exist in the peer-reviewed domain [3].

And finally, just in case you think that today's discussions aren't directly relevant to autism, constipation has also been mentioned in the death of another young person (see here)...


[1] Kinnear D. et al. Prevalence of physical conditions and multimorbidity in a cohort of adults with intellectual disabilities with and without Down syndrome: cross-sectional study. BMJ Open. 2018; 8: e018292.

[2] Evenhuis HM. Medical aspects of ageing in a population with intellectual disability: III. Mobility, internal conditions and cancer. J Intellect Disabil Res. 1997 Feb;41 ( Pt 1):8-18.

[3] Robertson J. et al. Constipation management in people with intellectual disability: A systematic review. J Appl Res Intellect Disabil. 2017 Nov 23.


Thursday, 8 March 2018

"specific microorganisms interact with some ME/CFS symptoms" and intervention could follow?

The quote titling this post: "specific microorganisms interact with some ME/CFS symptoms" and intervention could follow? comes in part from the findings reported by Amy Wallis and colleagues [1]. They reported that, following an open-label study design including 44 eligible patients diagnosed with ME/CFS [myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome], a few potentially important details emerged. Not least that: "antimicrobial and probiotic treatment showed concurrent reduction in enteric Streptococcus counts and improvement in some neurological symptoms." Mmm...

The authors on the Wallis paper have some research form in this area [2] (see here for a previous blogging take on this work) talking about how use of a antibiotic - erythromycin (400 mg) - delivered over a 6-day period seemed to have some important effects on "gram-positive faecal Streptococcus" and also, for some, a positive impact on sleep quality. The caveat being once again, that this was another open-trial so potentially liable to various confounding variables. Still, there was one particularly positive thing to see in this previous trial, the use of actigraphy to collect objective data on sleep-wake cycles (something sadly lacking from various other studies of ME/CFS).

This latest time around it was all about comparing "the treatment response of male and female ME/CFS patients using a combined antibiotic and probiotic intervention aimed at reducing Streptococcus." The trial was registered (see here) and indeed, prospectively registered. The focus was on "sleep, mood and cognitive symptoms" also taking into account sex/gender as a potentially important variable. Alongside the use of an antibiotic, this time researchers also introduced a probiotic into the study protocol on alternate weeks - "Two capsules of Pro4-50 d-lactate free multistrain probiotic." As well as sleep continuing to be a focus for study, a battery of other parameters were also studied over the 4-week period of study covering various aspects of cognition ("word memory, story memory, spatial working memory, visual learning, verbal fluency, processing speed, cognitive flexibility and planning"), fatigue ("General Fatigue subscale from the Multidimensional Fatigue Inventory, MFI-20") and interestingly, 'brain fog'.

Results: the first thing that struck me about the Wallis results was the fact that the attrition (drop-out) rate was zero. Accepting that this was a rather short study, every participant (27 females and 17 males) completed the study protocol and had full results. That's not bad at all. It also makes statistical analyses sooo much easier.

Next, despite the authors reporting that "some sleep" parameters seemed to show some positive changes following the intervention, I'm minded to point out a key statement made in their text: "The primary outcome for sleep, actigraphic sleep efficiency, revealed similar mean scores at baseline... and post... with a small effect estimate... indicating no change in objective measurement of sleep efficiency." Given the 'open trial' nature of the experiment being described combined with the short experimental time, one therefore needs to be cautious about other, more self-report observations included for study. Cautious but not necessarily dismissive.

Then: "Streptococcus count was the only microbial variable that showed a large effect for time... with a reduction from baseline... to post." This is perhaps not unexpected given the use of an antibiotic that targets that specific type of bacteria. That being said, not everyone on the study showed the same 'direction' of effect, as per the statement: "individual variability of treatment response was highlighted by the proportion of participants who increased in Streptococcus counts at post." I guess this might imply that things are complicated when it comes to bacteria and antimicrobial use. Like just about every other medicine in use these days, not everyone will show the same clinical response to the same medicine.

Finally, bearing in mind an important aim of the Wallis study to undertake "sex comparisons", the results pretty much suggested that things are not so clear-cut when it comes to ME/CFS. So: "Analysis of the change in scores from baseline to post for male and female subgroups (sex-time interactions) revealed no large effects and thus did not support a sex-specific response to the treatment."

What we have with the Wallis paper and results is a well-described study, albeit with an inherent issue: the use of an open-label trial. I'm not saying there isn't value in such results; merely that one needs to be cautious about any findings produced (this comes from someone who has used similar trial designs). I might also add that whilst the authors talk about "Change in mean scores for all clinical outcomes (sleep, mood, cognitive and other) [that] were in the direction of improvement at post-intervention" this is not the same as statistically significant findings no matter what your views are on the current system employed. When joined to that open-label study design employed, such 'in the right direction' views needs to be kept to a minimum without further, more controlled investigations, to back them up...


[1] Wallis A. et al. Open-label pilot for treatment targeting gut dysbiosis in myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome: neuropsychological symptoms and sex comparisons. Journal of Translational Medicine. 2018; 16: 24.

[2] Jackson ML. et al. Sleep quality and the treatment of intestinal microbiota imbalance in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: A pilot study. Sleep Science. 2015;8(3):124-133.


Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Bone health and autism continued

It's been a while since I last wrote about the topic of bone health and autism (see here). On that particular occasion, it was the work by Ann Neumeyer and colleagues [1] that provided the blogging fodder and the observation that: "BMD [bone mineral densityis lower in peripubertal boys with ASD [autism spectrum disorder]." BMD is important because of a possible association between lower BMD and risk of fracture or indeed, something more pathological.

Today I continue with this topic as per further work from Neumeyer and colleagues [2] looking to "examine macro- and micronutrient intakes and self-reported physical activity in boys with ASD compared to TDC [typically developing controls] and the relationship of these variables with BMD."

Based on data from nearly 50 boys aged 8-17 years of age (25 diagnosed with ASD and 24 not-autism controls), researchers once again relied on the technique known as dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) for the measurement of bone mineral density. Various measures were taken from various parts of the body -"whole body less head, hip, and spine." Alongside, food diaries provided a rough-and-ready measure of food intake, self-reported physical activity (that's self-reported) did what it said on the tin, and fasting levels of 25(OH) vitamin D and calcium were garnered. I'll come back to some of the pros-and-cons of some of these measures shortly.

Results: consistent with the peer-reviewed data that has come before, BMD z scores at the lumbar spine, femoral neck, total hip, and whole body less head were lower in those with autism compared with control participants. A BMD z score by the way, is basically a comparison of BMD with that of standardised data (i.e. an average person of the same sex and age). Added to such results, authors also observed that less calorie intake was present in the ASD group (again compared with controls) and a "lower proportion of ASD participants were categorized as "very physically active" (27% vs 79%; P<0.001)." Interestingly however: "Body mass index and serum vitamin D and calcium levels were similar."

I was rather intrigued by the Neumeyer results. Not least that vitamin D and calcium levels were 'similar' in the autism and control groups. As I've discussed before on this blog, there have been calls for preferential screening for these biological parameters as and when an autism diagnosis is received (see here) in light of other findings (see here). The Neumeyer observations perhaps reflect a wider need for such screening.

The use of self-report as a measure for physical activity, whilst useful, is slightly outdated in these times of actigraphy. Wearable technology to measure activity and rest cycles is cheap and abundant these days and, as I've mentioned on other occasions, really should be the research industry standard. I'm not saying people might not be accurate in reporting their short-term physical activity but...

I do think there are some additional 'where next?' things to consider when it comes to future work looking at BMD and autism. Noting for example, that both dietary and malabsorptive issues seem to be able to influence BMD [3] there are additional parameters to be looked at. Given previous peer-reviewed reports on lactose issues being present in relation to autism (see here), this could feature in future work. Although still possessing the ability to furrow brows in certain quarters, the observation of issues with intestinal permeability ('leaky gut') in relation to some autism (see here) also could be an additional parameter to examine. I daresay also that some initial chatter about a compound called zonulin potentially serving as a 'biomarker of impaired gut barrier function' in relation to some autism (see here) might also be revealing. And then there is the important issue of epilepsy / seizure disorder often being comorbid with autism (see here), and how certain [important] intervention measures for said issues might affect parameters such as vitamin D (see here) and what that might mean for long-term bone health...


[1] Neumeyer AM. et al. Bone density in peripubertal boys with autism spectrum disorders. J Autism Dev Disord. 2013 Jul;43(7):1623-9.

[2] Neumeyer AM. et al. Nutrition and Bone Density in Boys with Autism Spectrum Disorder. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2018 Feb 3. pii: S2212-2672(17)31749-5.

[3] Di Stefano M. et al. Lactose malabsorption and intolerance and peak bone mass. Gastroenterology. 2002 Jun;122(7):1793-9.


Tuesday, 6 March 2018

On biotin and 'some autism'

Although I've mentioned biotin (vitamin B7) in the context of autism before on this blog (see here), due credit needs to be given to Peter over at the Epiphany blog for more extensive coverage (peer-reviewed based) of this nutrient (see here). Discussing how, within the increasingly large range of conditions that manifest autism or autistic behaviour(s), there may be one or two 'types' of autism that manifest biotin deficiency, there is a pretty obvious course of intervention as and when deficiency is found: supplementation.

And supplementation is exactly what was discussed in the paper by Paul Benke and colleagues [1] reporting on a case report of a young female who presented with "features of autism spectrum disorder, isolated headaches, and episodes of headaches and limb shaking." Alongside those symptoms, authors also discussed a fairly unusual part of her clinical history where "hair and nails did not grow."

Although there are various reasons why hair and nails might not grow - indeed, just about every nutritional deficiency seems to affect something like nail health and growth - biotin was noted as a point of concern in this young lady's clinical picture. Indeed authors noted that: "Administration of biotin restored her nail and hair growth and improved intellectual ability and school performance." They added that use of acetazolamide, more typically indicated for glaucoma and/or epilepsy, seemed to provide some relief from other symptoms: "episodes of headaches, single limb shaking, and loss of consciousness." And before you say it, yes, autism is no protection against the development of headaches (see here).

Bearing in mind this was a single case report yet also acknowledging the tenet: 'if you've met one person, you've met one autistic person', I find descriptions such as this to often be revealing. Other case reports talking about biotinidase deficiency associated with autism [2], where biotinidase is the enzyme responsible for freeing up biotin bound to food (see here), add to the interest in this area. Specifically how some other symptoms - "seizures, weak muscle tone (hypotonia), breathing problems, hearing and vision loss, problems with movement and balance (ataxia), skin rashes, hair loss (alopecia), and a fungal infection called candidiasis" - associated with biotinidase deficiency are not a million miles away from what has been talked about in some autism literature too (see also the comments section of another post here).

As per my discussions on various other nutrients that seem to be 'deficient' in at least some people on the autism spectrum (see here and see here), the defining message seems to be that post-diagnosis of autism, a screening program needs to be put into place looking at various nutrients in the context of something like eating patterns and behaviours. This could be part of a broader range of screening for something like inborn errors of metabolism that can and do show a connection to some autism (see here) and often (always?) involve nutrients (see here for example). Or could just mirror what is happening in other parts of psychiatry, where physiological parameters are starting to gain some parity with behavioural/developmental/psychiatric ones (see here) mindful of what correcting any deficiency might bring to various aspects of health (see here)...


[1] Benke PJ. et al. Biotin and Acetazolamide for Treatment of an Unusual Child With Autism Plus Lack of Nail and Hair Growth. Pediatr Neurol. 2018 Feb;79:61-64.

[2] Zaffanello M. et al. A case of partial biotinidase deficiency associated with autism. Child Neuropsychol. 2003 Sep;9(3):184-8.


Monday, 5 March 2018

"Autologous Umbilical Cord Blood Stem Cells to Improve Symptoms in Children with Autism" safe but...

On a recent visit to the local aquarium with some of my brood, I listened to an interesting talk given by one of the staff. It concerned starfish and, among other things, how these creatures possess the fantastic ability to grow new limbs as and when one or more are 'given' to predators. The mechanism behind such fabulous regenerative power is down to stem cells I was told; those marvels of biological engineering that have the potential to "develop into many different cell types in the body during early life and growth." From what I understand, most, if not all animals have stem cells, although us human folk aren't quite Curt Connors just yet...

Anyhow, stem cells as well as allowing some animals to regrow limbs, have been touted as being potentially *useful* for all manner of other conditions/diseases/ailments (see here). You probably won't be surprised to hear that autism has been mentioned with stem cells in mind (see here for example), with various potential modes of action being discussed. Some of the peer-reviewed research talking about various types of stem cell use in the context of some autism has been quite *hopeful* in terms of observed effects (see here and see here) but not all...

The findings reported by Michael Chez and colleagues [1] (open-access available here) probably fall into that 'but not all' category. Reporting results based on a clinical trial listing (see here), authors concluded that: "autologous umbilical cord infusions are safe for children with ASD [autism spectrum disorder]" but "no statistically significant differences for any endpoints" were detected in their "randomized, blinded, placebo-controlled, crossover trial." I'm not entirely sure therefore as to how at least one press release on the Chez study was able to arrive at some of the text that they did (see here)...

OK, a few descriptions might be useful. Autologous basically means 'obtained from the same individual'. Indeed this was one of the inclusion criteria for the study: "Participants were required to have AUCB [autologous umbilical cord blood] cryopreserved at Cord Blood Registry (CBR, South San Francisco, CA) processed on the AutoXpress (AXP) Platform (Cesca Therapeutics, Rancho Cordova, CA)." That means that stem cell rich blood taken from the umbilical cord that united infant with their placenta had to be available for this study use. The "randomized, blinded, placebo-controlled, crossover trial" bit basically means that this study followed a gold-standard scientific methodology; participants were randomly allocated to receive a cord blood infusion or a placebo, none of the investigators who administered the various tests knew who was receiving which (cord blood or placebo), and at some point in the study, participants switched from cord blood to placebo or vice-versa continuing with the not-knowing status. As for those 'various tests', the primary outcome was scores on the "Expressive One Word Picture Vocabulary Test, 4th edition (EOWPVT-4) and Receptive One Word Picture Vocabulary Test, 4th edition (ROWPVT-4)" alongside some other secondary outcomes looking at behaviour "at baseline 12, and 24 weeks after infusion of each product." Safety of the product was also a key part of this study.

Results: bearing in mind the loss of one participant (to the study results, not anything else!), there are a few noteworthy findings. First, it looks like over the course of the study period at least, this was a fairly safe intervention. Out of a total of 86 adverse events reported, only 3 were eventually thought to be 'probably' related to the autologous umbilical cord blood infusion. Importantly: "No adverse events required treatment" so there is a potential tick for the tenet 'first, do no harm' at least in the short-term. When however it came to looking at those language and behaviour outcomes, the authors note that: "There were also no statistically significant differences between scores on the two primary or secondary endpoints after infusion with AUCB versus infusion of placebo." The authors do talk about "trends in improvement on the Socialization Subscale of the Vineland" but a trend is not the same as a statistically significant result...

The authors opine as to the possible reasons for the lack of statistically significant changes following the use of the cord blood infusion. Dose is mentioned as one possibility, and specifically: "participants varied widely in percentage and number of CD34+ cells in samples infused." Although no expert on CD34+ cells, from what I gather the numbers of these cells present in cord blood samples provides some potential important information on the 'quality' of the infusion as a function of their connection to hematopoietic progenitor cells. The authors also talk about the 'reticence' of parents of participants to "use the entire banked sample on an investigational treatment" given the finite material available.

So, where next for stem cells 'for autism'? Well, given the data showing such an intervention to be safe at least in the short-term, this research area is still ripe for further study alongside chatter about modelling autism via stem cells [2] and beyond [3]. I know there are varied opinions out there about the 'usefulness', long-term safety and acceptability of this class of intervention [4], but like any other area of the autism research landscape, issues such as potential best and non-responders need to be considered before baby and bathwater are thrown out completely...

To close, that (recent) feeling when, at the birthday party of one of your brood, a song by Loded Diper is introduced as the song of the day for the birthday child. Cue the curious looks from other mums and dads and the embarrassed smiles from yours truly...


[1] Chez M. et al. Safety and Observations from a Placebo-Controlled, Crossover Study to Assess Use of Autologous Umbilical Cord Blood Stem Cells to Improve Symptoms in Children with Autism. Stem Cells Transl Med. 2018 Feb 6.

[2] Ilieva M. et al. Psychiatry in a Dish: Stem Cells and Brain Organoids Modeling Autism Spectrum Disorders. Biol Psychiatry. 2017 Nov 16. pii: S0006-3223(17)32197-2.

[3] Donegan JJ. et al. Embryonic stem cell transplants as a therapeutic strategy in a rodent model of autism. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2018. Feb 7.

[4] Simberlund J. et al. Mesenchymal stem cells in autism spectrum and neurodevelopmental disorders: pitfalls and potential promises. World J Biol Psychiatry. 2015 Jul 31:1-8.


Saturday, 3 March 2018

ADHD and non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI)

I've covered the growing literature observing a link between a diagnosis of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and risk of unintentional injury a few times on this blog (see here and see here). The quite consistent picture emerging from that body of peer-reviewed research is that yes, a diagnosis of ADHD does seem to increase the risk of injury for whatever reason(s). Further, that pharmacotherapy utilising some of the various medicines indicated for ADHD, seems to have something of a 'reducing' effect on that elevated injury risk (see here).

Today I'm extending that ADHD-injury risk work to include the findings reported by Judit Balázs and colleagues [1] who concluded that: "ADHD symptoms are associated with an increased risk of NSSI [non-suicidal self-injury] in adolescents." Further that: "the symptoms of affective disorders and alcohol abuse/dependence psychotic symptoms" seem to be important 'mediators' of that risk of NSSI in the context of ADHD symptoms.

Based on the examination of adolescents who "were inpatients in the Vadaskert Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Hospital and Outpatient Clinic, Budapest, Hungary between 25.02.2015 and 09.05.2016", researchers reported that some 50 adolescents met the full criteria for ADHD and a further 70-odd "showed symptoms of ADHD at the subthreshold level." They employed the "Hungarian version of the modified Mini International Neuropsychiatric Interview Kid" to assess for various psychiatric symptoms, alongside the Deliberate Self-Harm Inventory (DSHI) to provide details on self-injury and some further questioning on suicidality. The aim was to investigate rates of NSSI in their cohort but also "how the symptoms of comorbid psychiatric conditions influence this [relationship], and whether there is a difference between girls and boys at this age."

Results: alongside the finding that at the very least, ADHD or ADHD symptoms are not protective against non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI), authors also observed that "people with ADHD have a higher risk than those without of developing comorbid psychiatric problems, both externalizing and internalizing ones" and "there is no direct association between the symptoms of ADHD and the prevalence of NSSI in a clinical sample of adolescents in any sex." On that last point, authors further opine that: "Comorbidities fully mediate the association between these conditions." In other words, clinicians should be screening for various psychiatric comorbidities - major depressive episode, dysthymic disorder, hypo/manic episode, psychotic disorders, substance-related dependence/abuse - and treating said comorbidities to potentially offset the risk of NSSI appearing alongside ADHD or subclinical ADHD.

In these days of ESSENCE - Early Symptomatic Syndromes Eliciting Neurodevelopmental Clinical Examinations - where the rule seems to be that various labels do not appear in some sort of diagnostic vacuum (see here for example), the Balázs findings fit well. The implication being that before grand associations are made on the basis of one variable = one condition/label/diagnosis (see here for example), one should perhaps consider a wider clinical picture. Indeed, to further extend the Balázs findings talking about NSSI, and based on the idea that autism and ADHD seem to be an important clinical combination (see here), I would perhaps encourage a greater depth of screening in future research (see here). That also might apply to the delicate issue of suicidality too (see here)...


[1] Balázs J. et al. Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and nonsuicidal self-injury in a clinical sample of adolescents: the role of comorbidities and gender. BMC Psychiatry. 2018; 18:34.