Link Between ASD Protein Mutations & Brain Signaling Opens Doors To Treatment

A recent study found a link between a protein associated with autism and the signaling system between neurons, which opens up a new area of autism research and suggests potential for treating ASD symptoms. The study was conducted by Dr. Südhof and Dr. Malenka at Stanford University and published in the online journal Neuron on April 11. The researchers mutated and controlled levels of the protein associated with autism (neuroligin-3) in mice and observed the neurological affects. Findings revealed an association between variations in neuroligin-3 levels and endocannabinoid signals, which “tone down communication between neurons.” This conclusion suggests potential treatment for the symptoms of ASD by limiting the endocannabinoid signals artificially.  One such treatment is the repurposing of Rimonabant, a pharmaceutical drug intended to treat obesity that was recalled for certain psychiatric concerns. The drug acts on the endocannabinoid system and the side-effects observed during trial for obesity may actually be the desired effects to treat autism symptoms. Additionally, the endocannabinoid system is the primary system affected by marijuana’s active chemical, cannabis. Rimonabant and cannabis are being tested and considered for treatment options. Senior author of the research study, Südhof, asserts that in addition to opening doors to potential treatment options, the association between the protein neuroligin-3 and the endocannabinoid system “may suggest novel strategies for understanding the underlying causes of complex brain disorders.”[i] To read the whole research study, visit the online journal Neuron.  For more on Rimonabant research, visit Medical News Today.

[i] “Mutations Found in Individuals With Autism Interfere With Endocannabinoid Signaling in the Brain.” Science Daily. N.p., 11 Apr. 2013. Web. 19 Apr. 2013. <>.


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