UC DAVIS (CBS13) — UC Davis researchers believe they’ve found a new possible treatment for autism.
Professor Randi Hagerman is leading research into children with Fragile X Syndrome, a genetic condition that causes developmental problem, including autism. The condition is caused by a repeat of a gene on the X chromosome—the longer the repetition, the more severely it affects the person.
“They just keep overreacting to stimuli,” she said. “They get anxious and nervous–and they start acting out.”
To calm those children, new research centered around a popular anti-anxiety drug is showing promising results.
“Low dose sertraline—at a very low dose; between 2.5 and 5 milligrams a day—really helps overall development, visual perception, fine motor coordination,” she said.
Researchers as the UC Davis MIND Institute also found it improved expressive language abilities.
They studied 55 children ages 2 to 6 years old with Fragile X. In the six-month study, they gave half of them a low dose of sertraline, more commonly known as Zoloft. The other half received a placebo.
The Zoloft group showed marked improvements. Studies show young children with autism have low levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter found in the gastrointestinal tract. Zoloft increases those levels.
Hagerman also believes it stimulates a protein in the brain called encoded by the BDNF gene.
“That stimulates connectivity between neurons; it can also stimulate the formation of new neurons,” she said. “It also seems to calm down the anxiety and makes them less over-reactive to stimuli in their environment.”
Researchers at the MIND Institute aren’t done studying the possible new breakthrough and are looking for more children diagnosed with non-Fragile X autism to be part of a similar study.