Friday 28 June 2019

Roger Moore's eyebrows, ADHD and coeliac disease part 2

Consider this post an extension of some previous blogging chatter (see here) about how behaviourally defined diagnostic labels such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) seem to rarely exist in some sort of clinical vacuum. Part of that vacuum also potentially encompasses a range of somatic symptoms and/or diagnostic labels.

The findings reported by Vendel Kristensen and colleagues [1] set out to "assess self-reported symptoms of impaired concentration in coeliac disease before and after treatment with gluten-free diet, compared with healthy controls and patient controls." Coeliac (celiac) disease, in case you didn't know, refers to the archetypal 'gluten can affect biology' condition, where a certain genetic predisposition (or two) adds to gluten exposure to start a whole cascade of biological actions that impact on physical health and well being. Alongside things like bowel symptoms, there is an increasing recognition that coeliac disease (CD) also potentially brings with it certain psychological symptoms, particularly when it is not properly treated/managed (see here).

Kristensen et al asked some 30 people - "newly diagnosed coeliac patients" - to complete various questionnaires pertinent to the presentation of ADHD type symptoms, depression and anxiety and gut issues. These were compared with responses from those diagnosed with an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and controls (healthcare professionals).

They reported that those diagnosed with CD before implementation of a gluten-free diet had "significantly higher scores than healthy controls" in relation to the presence of self-reported ADHD and depression/anxiety symptoms. Further: "After a gluten-free diet, their scores improved and were not significantly different from healthy controls." That gluten-free diet by the way, was in place for a minimum of 12 months.

One has to be careful not to make too many sweeping generalisations from the Kristensen data. The data do not, for example, mean that all cases of ADHD are somehow the product of undiagnosed coeliac disease. Not even close. What do they do (cautiously) suggest, is that preferential screening for something like coeliac disease *might* be a good idea as and when ADHD is diagnosed or significant ADHD-like symptoms present. Such findings also resonate with the idea that certain dietary interventions to manage *some* ADHD could be a research area to consider (see here) and bring into play an interesting concept: the gut-brain axis.

Oh, and in case you were wondering about the 'Roger Moore's eyebrows' bit, well, he was the best James Bond wasn't he?


[1] Kristensen VA. et al. Attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder symptoms respond to gluten-free diet in patients with coeliac disease. Scand J Gastroenterol. 2019 May 3:1-6.


Monday 24 June 2019

ADHD and "criminogenic cognitions": is inattention a key issue?

"These results indicate that in community-recruited adults, inattention rather than hyperactivity is related to criminogenic cognitions."

That was a key conclusion reached in the paper by Paul Engelhardt and colleagues [1] who set out to put some further scientific flesh on the bones of the finding of a "strong link between ADHD [attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder] and criminal behaviour." They were specifically interested in some of the cognitive processes behind such a correlation, and whether specific facets of ADHD might be more strongly related to criminal behaviour.

OK, first things first, although there is more than a passing connection between ADHD and risk of incarceration for example (see here and see here) I do need to point out that not every person diagnosed with ADHD is a criminal or would-be criminal. Sweeping generalisations about the effects of behavioural and/or psychiatric labels have done more than enough damage down the years, and I don't want to add to any stigma. That being said, I don't think it's unfair to point out that there is a body of peer-reviewed research evidence out there observing that ADHD certainly seems to increase the risk of contact with law-makers and law enforcers alongside a host of other events (see here).

Engelhardt et al provided a sample of adults (N=198) aged between 18-65 years with a package of questionnaires designed to assess 'criminal thinking styles' and ADHD-related traits. Questionnaires were of the self-report kind. The results suggested that various variables/items on the ADHD questionnaire and more general demographic information *correlated* with criminogenic cognitions. So: "higher age and being female were negatively related to criminogenic cognitions" indicating that such variables were associated with lower criminogenic cognitions. Further, and as mentioned at the start of this post: "inattention/memory problems were more strongly associated with criminogenic cognitions than was impulsivity/emotional lability." In total, age, sex/gender and ADHD symptoms accounted for "between half and two-thirds of the variance in criminogenic cognitions."

The authors mention how their results differ from other data talking about hyperactivity as being linked to criminality, and whether their use of a non-criminal participant group and focus on criminogenic cognitions rather than criminality might be important. I'd agree that the Engelhardt results are important but require further investigations to be carried out to assess their validity. Having said that, the results as they stand do perhaps offer another avenue for intervention, based on the the idea that managing inattention (if that is possible) *could* be have some really important effects.


[1] Engelhardt PE. et al. The Relationship between Adult Symptoms of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Criminogenic Cognitions. Brain Sci. 2019 Jun 2;9(6). pii: E128.


Friday 21 June 2019

The rise and rise of CM-AT for autism

Today's post surrounds a poster presentation delivered at INSAR 2019, the (still) premier international autism conference, albeit not without its battles. The poster was delivered by Heil and colleagues [1] and talks about a compound / preparation that has been discussed a few years back on this blog: CM-AT (see here).

CM-AT is described as a "pancreatic enzyme preparation" with chymotrypsin - a digestive enzyme - seemingly placed quite prominently in its list of ingredients. CM-AT is, from what I understand, something that is still going through the research processes with regards to its use in the context of autism. Heil and colleagues presented data on part of that research agenda, specifically pertinent to ascertaining "whether or not behavior (e.g., symptoms of irritability, hyperactivity) in preschoolers with autism could be improved with CM-AT."

Bearing in mind a conference poster presentation is not necessarily the same as a published peer-reviewed research article, the Heil data was based on the use of a "randomized, placebo-controlled, 12-week clinical trial" methodology where 92 children, aged between 3-5 years, diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) received CM-AT "as granules sprinkled on food" and almost a hundred boys with ASD received a placebo "which consisted of visually identical inert sprinkles." The 'Irritability' scale of the Aberrant Behavior Checklist (ABC) was the primary outcome measure.

Results: "children receiving CM-AT (relative to those receiving placebo) demonstrated significant reductions in Irritability... Hyperactivity... Inappropriate Speech... over the 12 weeks of the trial." Researchers further reported that those children with higher levels of irritability at baseline tended to show a greater positive response than when the participant sample as a whole was analysed.

I think you can perhaps see why these results - preliminary as they are - are worthy blogging material. Irritability, perhaps listed as a 'challenging behaviour' in the context of autism is something that many, many people would love to be able to effectively tackle; if not just because of the impact it can have on those with autism and those around them who have to 'cope' with such behaviours. Indeed, given the other options for managing such behaviour such as the antipsychotic risperidone (see here) and the issues which that drug and its similars can bring (see here), the idea that there may be other, less side-effect heavy options (see here) is definitely something to consider.

I'm hopeful that soon, very soon, I can talk more about CM-AT in the context of irritability and beyond in relation to autism...


[1] Heil MF. et al. Pancreatic Replacement Therapy with CM-at Is Associated with Reduction in Maladaptive Behaviors in Preschoolers with Autism. INSAR 2019.


Wednesday 19 June 2019

Mindfulness for ADHD systematically reviewed

"According to presented descriptive results, all the studies (100%) showed improvement of ADHD [attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder] symptoms."

That was the standout sentence derived from the findings reported by Hélène Poissant and colleagues [1] who looked at "the available literature concerning MBIs [mindfulness-based interventions] in adult participants with ADHD." Mindfulness by the way, is described as a way of "reconnecting with our bodies and the sensations they experience" with a specific focus on "an awareness of our thoughts and feelings as they happen moment to moment." I'm no expert on mindfulness or mindfulness-based interventions but, from what I gather, the core of such intervention(s) is based around "somatically focused meditative techniques (body scan, sitting meditation, and mindful yoga) that are thought to help participants cultivate nonjudgmental, mindful awareness of present-moment experience." 'Focusing in on the present' seems to be the phrase that springs to mind.

Poissant et al examined the relevant peer-reviewed science on the application of the MBIs to ADHD upto June 2018. They specifically focused on adults with ADHD, and were able to track down "13 studies conducted with 753 adults (mean age of 35.1 years)" for inclusion in their systematic review. They observed that: "All the studies (100%) showed improvement of ADHD symptoms following an MBI." They also mentioned that: "mindfulness meditation training improves some aspects of executive function and emotion dysregulation" as per the findings of some of those studies.

Despite the '100% of studies showing improvement in ADHD symptoms' sentiments, I'm not falling hook, line and sinker for the value of MBIs in relation to ADHD. The main reason is the high risk of bias identified in quite a few of the studies reviewed by Poissant, related to things like performance bias ("blinding of participants and of personnel") and selection bias ("allocation concealment" and "selection bias"). One could argue that the examination of something like MBIs under research conditions is never going to be perfect. Unlike scientific investigation of a medicine, where a placebo can be formulated to look, smell and taste the same, it would be difficult to come up with something to approximate MBI and indeed, approximate what the 'active ingredient' of mindfulness actually is. Similar issues have been talked about on other occasions on this blog (see here).

That all being said, there is something appealing about MBIs both in terms of effect and also the fact that it can be learned by pretty much anyone, is cost-free and probably about as side-effect free as one could get. If such a simple technique helps with any one of the symptoms of ADHD and improves quality of life for those with ADHD, it's got to be something to be considered alongside the myriad of other possible interventions (see here and see here and see here) that *might* offset the risks that follow a diagnosis of ADHD (see here).

Oh, and it appears that mindfulness and ADHD is a topic in the ascendancy [2]...


[1] Poissant H. et al. Behavioral and Cognitive Impacts of Mindfulness-Based Interventions on Adults with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: A Systematic Review. Behav Neurol. 2019;2019:5682050.

[2] Xue J. et al. A meta-analytic investigation of the impact of mindfulness-based interventions on ADHD symptoms. Medicine (Baltimore). 2019 Jun;98(23):e15957.


Monday 17 June 2019

Following ADHD long-term: "a persistence rate of 27.8%"

Studies such as the one published by Michel Lecendreux and colleagues [1] always catch my attention. Research that follows a group of people over a period of years makes for interesting reading; not least because one gets a flavour for what *could* happen when such findings are applied to a larger population.

The Lecendreux findings focused on a few important issues pertinent to a diagnosis of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) specifically related to (a) the persistence of ADHD, and (b) the idea that signs and symptoms of ADHD not meeting the thresholds for a diagnosis of ADHD might be rather important. Indeed, that they may merit "a subthreshold diagnostic category" of their own.

So, based on a starting participant sample of just over a thousand families including a child in the "6-12 years age range", interviews were conducted covering various aspects of ADHD and beyond: "symptoms of ADHD, conduct disorder, and oppositional defiant disorder as well as family living situation, school performance, sleep disturbance, eating habits, use of supplemental iron, and history of ADHD treatment." Approaching half of the original sample (492 / 1012) were followed up some 9 years later where "the persistence of ADHD and its impairments and the emergence of new conditions were assessed."

Results: "At follow-up, 16.7% of the children diagnosed with ADHD at baseline met full criteria for ADHD and 11.1% met criteria for subthreshold ADHD, yielding a persistence rate of 27.8%." Diagnosis of ADHD was, by the way, based on DSM-5 criteria (see here). That figure of 27.8% in terms of ADHD persistence from childhood to early adulthood is potentially an important one. It tells us that for a majority of children diagnosed with ADHD in childhood, their symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity will reduce to such a degree that they are no longer considered clinically significant or at least not reaching thresholds for a diagnosis of ADHD. Whether such a reduction in symptoms is through processes such as maturation or the timely implementation of intervention/management strategies needs quite a bit more work. Whether also ADHD potentially 'morphs' into something else as people age also needs further exploration (see here).

Another important detail was also mentioned by Lecendreux et al: "Among children not diagnosed with ADHD at baseline, 1.1% met criteria for ADHD at follow-up." Such a figure is important in relation to the concept of adult-onset ADHD [2] and the question of whether ADHD is a diagnosis with foundations always rooted in infancy. The Lecendreux findings suggest that for some people, this might not be the case and opens the door to possible talk about acquired ADHD for examples. This also sounds very familiar (see here).

Insofar as the issue of a possible 'subthreshold diagnostic category' for ADHD, I find myself agreeing with the "dimensional conceptualization" mentioned by the authors. Several other conditions / states / diagnoses have recognised 'lite versions' of the label. In autism for example, one might see this as social communication disorder (SCD) or mention of the broader autism phenotype (BAP). I'm even minded to place the label known as pathological demand avoidance (PDA) in a similar bracket given recent opinions (see here). Such chatter about 'lite' does not and should not downplay the effects of such sub-threshold labels. It merely acknowledges that there may be a wider spectrum of issues / difficulties experienced outside of the receipt of a core diagnosis.

So it should perhaps be the same with ADHD too, given what is beginning to emerge on the long-term 'effects' that a diagnosis of ADHD and subthreshold ADHD might bring (see here and see here).


[1] Lecendreux M. et al. A 9-Year Follow-Up of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in a Population Sample. J Clin Psychiatry. 2019 May 7;80(3). pii: 18m12642.

[2] Cooper M. et al. Investigating late-onset ADHD: a population cohort investigation. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2018 Oct;59(10):1105-1113.


Friday 14 June 2019

Nighttime body movements and autism

I was rather interested in the findings reported by Nobushige Naito and colleagues [1] talking about how atypical body movements during the night seemed to be more frequently observed in children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) compared to not-autism controls. Interested because, sleep is a long-running 'issue' in relation to autism (see here) and because, researchers relied on the use of actigraphy in their study: "a movement-based index measured by an accelerometer" rather than just second-hand observational questioning.

So: "Seventeen TD [typically developing] children and 17 children with ASD participated in this study (5 to 8 years old)." Importantly (see here) we are told that: "Considering the frequent co-occurrence of ASD and ADHD [attention-deficit hyperactivity disordersymptoms, we did not exclude ASD patients with ADHD symptoms." Authors relied on data from a waistband accelerometer worn by participants over at least 3 nights. Using a waistband was seen as preferable to the more typical wristband. Data was collected and analysed. It included something called a movement index (MI): "the ratio of the body movement period in 20 minutes was calculated continuously for 9 hours using the sliding window method."

Results: "a higher rate of body movement 2 to 3 hours after the first onset of body stillness was more prominent in children with ASD than in TD children." Importantly authors also mention how the objective data provided by the waistband accelerometer showed a different "time course of body movements during night in young children with ASD" despite parents/carers reporting no "apparent" problems with sleeping. They also talk some of the differences in body movements seen in those children with ASD potentially *related* to some awake behaviours - "a lower social ability and more frequent maladaptive behaviour."

The Naito results represent a good start at looking at these important behaviours. I'm a little bit hesitant to go all-in with the suggestion from the authors that "atypical nocturnal body movement could be an ASD state and trait marker in young children with ASD" but can see the importance of further investigations in this area.


[1] Naito N. et al. Atypical body movements during night in young children with autism spectrum disorder: a pilot study. Sci Rep. 2019 May 6;9(1):6999.


Wednesday 12 June 2019

Childhood dietary patterns and ADHD?

The findings of the systematic review and meta-analysis published by Bianca Del-Ponte and colleagues [1] provide the blogging fodder today, and the suggestion that: "a diet high in refined sugar and saturated fat can increase the risk, whereas a healthy diet, characterized by high consumption of fruits and vegetables, would protect against ADHD [attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder] or hyperactivity."

The starting point: "The diet during childhood has been investigated as a factor potentially involved in the ADHD etiology." Yes it has, and Del-Ponte et al managed to find 14 studies looking at this issue published in the peer-reviewed literature. The data were boiled down and results obtained suggesting that "healthy dietary patterns were protective against ADHD (OR: 0.65; 95% CI: 044 – 0.97), while unhealthy dietary patterns were found as risk to ADHD (OR: 1.41; 95% CI: 1.15–1.74)."

The authors admit that the science upon which they made their observation is "weak" insofar as cause and effect not being proved. This is an important point (see here) that follows other research in this area too (see here and see here) together with an understanding that many different variables *might* influence the risk of something like ADHD as a diagnosis or in behaviour (see here and see here for examples).

Still, if there is even the remotest possibility that diet might be something to consider in respect of ADHD, adding it to the intervention arsenal that already exists (see here) can only be a good thing...


[1] Del-Ponte B. et al. Dietary patterns and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders. 2019; 252: 160-173.


Tuesday 11 June 2019

SHANK3, gut issues and (mouse) autism continued

"We conclude that apart from its well-known role in the CNS [central nervous system], SHANK3 plays a specific role in the GI [gastrointestinal] tract that may contribute to the ASD [autism spectrum disorder] phenotype by extracerebral mechanisms."

So said the findings reported by Ann Katrin Sauer and colleagues [1], and yet more evidence that issues with SHANK3 mentioned in relation to 'some' autism, may well (partly) explain much more than just behaviour (see here and see here).

The Sauer study was yet another mouse study. They specifically focused on the "Shank3αβ KO" mouse, where KO means knock-out, referring to the engineering of this mouse strain to mimic issues with the functioning and availability of SHANK3, "a known scaffolding protein of the postsynaptic density (PSD) of glutamatergic excitatory synapses." Said knock-out mice have been "reported to display ASD-like behavior with abnormal ultrasonic vocalization, repetitive self-grooming, and reduced interest in novel mice." I say this being careful to reiterate that we're talking about a mouse not human beings (see here).

On the basis of the observation that SHANK3 is expressed in the gut as well as brain and that GI issues are no stranger to autism (see here), researchers set about looking at how SHANK3 issues might also manifest as gut issues, and what this *could* mean for some autism. They observed some interesting things:

  • "analysis of the GI tract of Shank3αβ KO mice revealed significantly altered gut morphology" which included, among other things, increased levels of ZONULIN1 ("a modulator of tight junctions and alterations"). Zonulin is something that I'm particularly interested in on this blog (see here and see here) on the basis of its *connection* to intestinal barrier function and the misnomer that is 'leaky gut' (see here).
  • "The Microbiome of Shank3 KO Mice Is Altered." Bearing in mind the increasing importance of the gut microbiome to autism (see here), researchers reported some interesting difference between "Shank3αβ KO mice" and controls with regards to several different bacterial species. 
  • Researchers describe how those gut morphology and gut bacterial differences seemed to be linked to alterations in the "expression of inflammatory markers" too as they talked about "signs of increased immune activation in the periphery and the brain." A familiar cytokine is mentioned - IL-6 - and quite a few avenues for further investigation.

The net result of all this work is to say that, yes, the SHANK3 mouse model *potentially* mimicking some of the behavioural signs and symptoms of autism does also appear to show some significant gut-related issues. No, this does not directly translate into issues for 'all human autism', but it does add further credence to the idea that the gut-brain axis is likely important to at least 'some autism'. Where also SHANK3 issues are identified as coinciding with 'human autism', one might also entertain the idea that gut issues should be screened and treated/managed. And there might be lots of ways to manage them (see here for one example)...


[1] Sauer AK. et al. Altered Intestinal Morphology and Microbiota Composition in the Autism Spectrum Disorders Associated SHANK3 Mouse Model. Int. J. Mol. Sci. 2019; 20: 2134.


Monday 10 June 2019

Constipation and autism is not an uncommon combination

For those who know (or think they know) anything about autism, the title of this post - "Constipation and autism is not an uncommon combination" - is unlikely to be new or novel. Indeed, I've talked again and again and again about how functional gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms are very well over-represented when it comes to a diagnosis of autism (see here for example).

Enter then two further recent articles - one from Bradley Ferguson and colleagues [1] and one from María José Penzol and colleagues [2] - which further add to the evidence base in this area. Both papers are open-access, so please peruse at your leisure. The long-and-short of them can be quickly summarised:

  • The Ferguson paper set out to examine the "relationships among GI [gastrointestinal] problems, problem behaviors, and internalizing symptoms in a sample of 340 children and adolescents with ASD [autism spectrum disorder]." Caregivers/parents reported on their child's GI issues. Bottom line: "The majority of the sample experienced constipation (65%)." Various other functional GI issues were also reported.
  • The Penzol paper "reviewed the medical records of all patients admitted to the Comprehensive Medical Program for ASD (AMITEA) at Gregorio Marañón University General Hospital from January 2012 to December 2015." They analysed records for nearly 850 patients diagnosed with ASD. Their data were collected and transcribed by physicians including the "presence of fGID [functional gastrointestinal disorders] (gastrointestinal reflux, aerophagia, functional diarrhea, functional constipation, functional abdominal pain, cyclic vomiting)." Bottom line: "At least one fGID was present in 30.5% of patients, constipation being the most prevalent (47.4% of fGID patients)." They also observed that GI issues *seemed* to be related to the presence of intellectual (learning) disability, sleep issues and behavioural problems. These are not novel associations (see here and see here).

Of course there are strengths and weaknesses to those studies. No-one would dispute the fact that these are not perfect data. But, set within the context of a mountain of peer-reviewed science suggesting that something like constipation is over-represented when it comes to a diagnosis of autism, the collected results add a further layer of evidence. They also ask the question 'why', why oh why have we not got a greater handle on how to successfully treat/manage such symptoms?


[1] Ferguson BJ. et al. The Relationship Among Gastrointestinal Symptoms, Problem Behaviors, and Internalizing Symptoms in Children and Adolescents With Autism Spectrum Disorder. Front Psychiatry. 2019 Apr 9;10:194.

[2] Penzol MJ. et al. Functional Gastrointestinal Disease in Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Retrospective Descriptive Study in a Clinical Sample. Front Psychiatry. 2019 Apr 10;10:179.


Friday 7 June 2019

Preventing, yes preventing, elopement in kids with autism

I know the word 'prevention' is a dirty word for some in relation to some aspects of autism. When however 'prevention' is used in the context of elopement or wandering and autism, the word(s) take on an altogether different meaning...

The word prevention is used in the study findings reported by Silvia Pereira‐Smith and colleagues [1] and their focus on "the use of preventive measures that target elopement" in relation to autism. They add that "elopement can lead to dire consequences." Seldom have truer words been spoken in relation to this issue with autism in mind (see here).

For those of you who might know too much about this topic, wandering is an important issue in both autism research and practice (see here and see here). Figures suggest that around 1 in 4 children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) will consistently wander from home or school or other place, but this issue does not seem to be as widely talked about or parents/caregivers consistently given as much information about it as they should.

Pereira-Smith and colleagues asked nearly 400 parent-caregivers of children and young people diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) about their [child's] experience of wandering/elopement. They asked questions about who did it, "preventive measure use, and sociodemographic characteristics" of their cohort.

Results: "Two hundred and sixty-seven caregivers (68%) reported elopement by their child." That figure is way over the 1 in 4 estimate that has been previously banded around. Researchers also found that wandering was not confined to any one "sociodemographic characteristics, nor with any specific comorbidity or neurobehavioral medication." Kids and young people across the autism spectrum wandered. That being said: "Children with limited communication skills were more likely to have a history of elopement." As for that word 'prevention', most families used "lock(s) at top of doors" with other families utilising "handicap permits, signs/visual markers, or tracking devices" albeit to a lesser degree than locks. Researchers conclude that "use of specific preventive measures can help guide recommendations for this dangerous comorbid symptom, and provide information needed for future studies to assess the efficacy of various preventive measures." Who would argue with that?

Oh, and just to let you know that there are some autism organisations who have really taken a lead in this area (see here)...


[1] Pereira-Smith S. et al. Preventing elopement in children with autism spectrum disorder. Autism Res. 2019 Apr 29.


Thursday 6 June 2019

That 'gut bacteria transplant provokes autistic signs in mice' paper is not perfect but...

The paper by Gil Sharon and colleagues [1] has certainly created headlines and discussion in equal measure (see here and see here and see here and see here). Concluding that: "Mice harboring human ASD [autism spectrum disorder], but not TD [typically developing], microbiomes exhibit ASD-like behaviors", the idea of a gut-brain connection in relation to autism (see here) potentially gains some research traction.

The Sharon study involved transplanting gut bacteria - the gut microbiome - from a small number of participants - "from 5 control volunteers and 11 patients diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder" - into mice lacking a microbiome and breeding said mice. They then analysed the behaviour and other biological parameters of those offspring mice according to whether their mother mice had received a transplant from controls or participants with various 'degrees' of autism. They also looked at 'metabolite profiles' based on "analyses of colon contents from oTD [offspring typically developing] and oASD [offspring autism spectrum disorder] mice."

Results: "colonization with ASD microbiota is sufficient to induce hallmark autistic behaviors." By 'hallmark autistic behaviors' researchers observed that said mice showed "increased repetitive behavior, decreased locomotion, and decreased communication... compared to mice colonized with samples from TD controls (oTD), as tested by marble burying (MB), open-field testing (OFT), and ultrasonic vocalization (USV), respectively." Researchers also observed specific differences across the mouse group gut microbiomes, some of which were consistent with that noted in other independent studies.

Also: "Twenty-seven out of 313 detected metabolites were significantly different in the colon contents of oASD mice, compared to oTD mice." They specifically focused in on two metabolites - taurine and 5-aminovaleric acid (5-AV) - both of which were reported in lower levels in the oASD mice, and how these compounds show a *connection* to GABA, a compound potentially important to autism (see here). Further they showed that supplementation of 5-AV and taurine to another strain of mouse that serves as a 'mouse model of autism' (BTBR T+ tf/J (BTBR) mouse model) resulted in "improved repetitive and social behaviors." I should add the word 'mouse' into the sentence "improved repetitive and social behaviors."

Insofar as the limitations of the Sharon studies and paper, various people have been keen to point out that the results should be viewed cautiously and as preliminary. This on the basis of the number of animals included for study, the reliance on mouse models of autism (and the logical fallacies that can sometimes follow) and some of the generalisations made in the study write-up by the authors. I wouldn't disagree with such cautions, bearing in mind that some mouse models of autism - the valproic acid autism mouse model for example - actually seem to be pretty good at mimicking some facets of (induced) autism. I'd also point out that the metabolomics work undertaken by Sharon and colleagues looks to be pretty wide-ranging (GC-MS and NMR are discussed) and findings related to taurine have also been noted in other independent study (see here). I also observed that there was a research tie-up with Arizona State University in the Sharon study, as the name Dae-Wook Kang is mentioned and 'poo transplants for [some] autism' makes yet another appearance (see here and see here).

"While ours is a limited study, with 16 donor samples from a pediatric cohort, the results support a hypothesis that the human gut microbiota contributes to ASD phenotypes." I'd agree that the Sharon results add a further layer to the idea that the new triad - intestinal permeability, mucosal immunology and intestinal microbiota - could be important to at least some autism. The results offer a road map for further investigation in this area and perhaps eventually, yet another avenue for screening and intervention to complement other recent initiatives (see here); all set with the view of the (plural) 'autisms'.

Finally, I note that another study [2] mentioning the words 'mouse' and 'autism' has been published recently. With some media attention mentioning how: "Exercise reversed autistic behaviors in an animal model of the condition" there didn't seem to be the same 'keenness' to point out the flaws of the Andoh study, despite once again a reliance on 'mouse autism' and all which that entails. It makes me wonder whether the focus on the second brain (gut) and autism detailed in the Sharon study might still have the ability to raise hackles in some quarters?


[1] Sharon G. et al. Human Gut Microbiota from Autism Spectrum Disorder Promote Behavioral Symptoms in Mice. Cell. 2019 May 30;177(6):1600-1618.e17.

[2] Andoh M. et al. Exercise Reverses Behavioral and Synaptic Abnormalities after Maternal Inflammation. Cell Reports. 2019; 27: 10. June 4.


Wednesday 5 June 2019

"specific clinical and neuropsychological dimensions might be related to suicidal behaviors in ASD"

The quote titling this post - "specific clinical and neuropsychological dimensions might be related to suicidal behaviors in ASD [autism spectrum disorder]" - comes from the findings reported by Luisa Weiner and colleagues [1] (open-access). It adds to other recent research talking about how elements of autism *might* associate with suicidality (see here). I should warn you that some of the Weiner findings make for difficult reading.

Authors described a case report of "a 21-year-old male [Mr A] with ASD who attempted suicide twice, in the absence of other psychiatric diagnoses." They detail how, following some quite comprehensive observations, a possible *connection* was noted between his suicidality and "some of the core clinical and neuropsychological features of ASD."

A few important points are highlighted in the Weiner study: "Mr. A. reported that his suicidal thoughts started when he was 18, following an unrequited infatuation with a classmate – the result of a rational decision: he had decided to “fall in love” with her." Things did not however go as he planned, as we are told that: "He started having “obsessive negative thoughts”, and attempted suicide by jumping from a window." He survived but "his suicidal thoughts lingered, characterized by a restrictive, rigid pattern."

Researchers relied on the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) to rule out depression in this case: his score "was in the normal range (3/63)." This inventory is one of a few that have been described as being "robust in their measurement properties in the general population" [2] but with perhaps more to do in the context of its use in autism. In the absence of depression or rather elevated self-report scores indicative of depression, authors suggest this raises "the question of whether the persistence of suicidal thoughts was associated with ASD-related features."

The Weiner findings have to be placed in the context of other independent research looking at suicidality and autism. First, risk of suicidality is seemingly heightened when autism is diagnosed (see here). Second, although depression - an important variable *linked* to suicidality - is over-represented in relation to autism (see here), questions are still being asked about the impact of depression in relation to suicidality accompanying autism in the context of an often complicated clinical picture (see here). Third, the idea that the features/traits of autism might themselves be independent predictors of suicidality in autism has been discussed on several research occasions (see here and see here and see here).

The culmination of all this work is that quite a lot more research and clinical resources need to be ploughed into looking at suicidality and autism. And, importantly, translating said research into real-world actions to potentially save lives.

If you need someone to talk to, there are organisations out there...


[1] Weiner L. et al. A case study of suicidality presenting as a restricted interest in autism Spectrum disorder. BMC Psychiatry. 2019; 19: 126.

[2] Cassidy SA. et al. Measurement properties of tools used to assess depression in adults with and without autism spectrum conditions: A systematic review. Autism Res. 2018 May;11(5):738-754.


Tuesday 4 June 2019

Barriers to recruitment in paediatric CFS research: "the focus of the study itself"

I want to mention the study results published by Maria Loades and colleagues [1] today. This piece of research focused on the issue of participant recruitment "in the context of an observational study of mental health problems in adolescents with paediatric Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS/ME) presenting to a specialist paediatric CFS team" and the barriers faced when trying to recruit for such a study. Various obstacles to participation were noted, including an important variable: "the focus of the study itself."

The Loades article is open-access so doesn't need any long post from me. The main points: researchers asked researchers about their research experience specifically focused on "exploring healthcare professionals’ views of recruiting to studies, including the facilitators and barriers to recruitment to this study." 'This study', by the way was an "observational study of co-morbid mental health problems in adolescents with confirmed CFS/ME."

Results: based on interviews with six researchers, various qualitative results were provided. Some interesting points were raised. The ones that stood out for me were related to how researchers themselves talked about the research focus on mental health in relation to ME/CFS. A few choice quotes exemplify this: "…because it’s got depression in the title and um I think um you it just seems a little bit more explanation um by inviting them to take part I’m not suggesting that they are depressed…" and "because it is more objectively more obviously about the mental health side of things I have found it to be a different experience recruiting to this."

I'm sure that for those with some knowledge about the debates on-going in the context of ME/CFS you can perhaps see where I'm going with this. I speak of course about the 'application' of things like the biospychosocial (BPS) model to ME/CFS which has, I'm afraid to say, caused some significant distress down the years to patients, their loved ones and many researchers alike (see here and see here). Indeed, one could argue that the application of the BPS model to ME/CFS, where 'unhelpful thoughts' for example are deemed part-and-parcel of some peoples view of ME/CFS, has been so damaging to the concept of ME/CFS, that any study looking at mental health in the realm of CFS/ME is likely to be seen as 'tainted' by association.

And, as I write, still the BPS beat continues [2] although with scrutiny continuing to follow [3]...


[1] Loades ME. et al. Obstacles to recruitment in paediatric studies focusing on mental health in a physical health context: the experiences of clinical gatekeepers in an observational cohort study. BMC Med Res Methodol. 2019 Apr 27;19(1):89.

[2] Gregorowski A. et al. Child and adolescent chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis: where are we now? Curr Opin Pediatr. 2019 Apr 30.

[3] Vink M. & Vink-Niese A. Cognitive behavioural therapy for myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome is not effective. Re-analysis of a Cochrane review. Health Psychol Open. 2019;6(1):2055102919840614. 


Saturday 1 June 2019

Parent stress and autism: an issue that needs a lot more discussion

Two paper are brought to the (brief) blogging table today: the first from Nik Aida Nik Adib and colleagues [1] and the second from Elena Pattini and colleagues [2], both focused on the topic of stress and parenting in the context of autism.

Yes, I know to mention the words 'parenting stress' and 'autism' in the same sentence requires some caution. I know some people don't like to talk about this and related topics (see here). But obscuring such important research from view for fear of upsetting people or impacting on any 'positive PR' does little to approach an issue that is seemingly so widespread (see here).

So what are the key points to take away from both papers on this topic?

1. "Caregivers of an ASD [autism spectrum disorder] child perceived significant stress while taking care of their children." Not exactly a novel results I grant you, but important to reiterate.
2. Autism plus learning disability seems to increase the 'perceived' stress.
3. Parental stress may well present as physiological stress. This is particularly important in relation to the measurement of something called cortisol.

OK, there's nothing earth-shattering about such findings. They again imply that as and when a child receives a diagnosis of autism or ASD, parents or primary caregivers might also benefit from some information on what they might expect and what they can do when it comes to coping with stress. Caring for the carers (see here) and offering things like respite care to those who need it (see here) sound like good initiatives. Bear also in mind, that parenting a child with autism is often done alongside parenting other children too, and what effect that can sometimes have on them (see here)...


[1] Nik Adib NA. et al. Perceived Stress among Caregivers of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A State-Wide Study. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019 Apr 25;16(8). pii: E1468.

[2] Pattini E. et al. Psychological characteristics and physiological reactivity to acute stress in mothers of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Stress Health. 2019 Apr 26.