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A Review of Traditional and Novel Treatments for Seizures in Autism Spectrum Disorder: Findings From a Systematic Review and Expert Panel
Despite the fact that seizures are commonly associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the effectiveness of treatments for seizures has not been well studied in individuals with ASD. This manuscript reviews both traditional and novel treatments for seizures associated with ASD. Studies were selected by systematically searching major electronic databases and by a panel of experts that treat ASD individuals. Only a few anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) have undergone carefully controlled trials in ASD, but these trials examined outcomes other than seizures. Several lines of evidence point to valproate, lamotrigine, and levetiracetam as the most effective and tolerable AEDs for individuals with ASD. Limited evidence supports the use of traditional non-AED treatments, such as the ketogenic and modified Atkins diet, multiple subpial transections, immunomodulation, and neurofeedback treatments. Although specific treatments may be more appropriate for specific genetic and metabolic syndromes associated with ASD and seizures, there are few studies which have documented the effectiveness of treatments for seizures for specific syndromes. Limited evidence supports l-carnitine, multivitamins, and N-acetyl-l-cysteine in mitochondrial disease and dysfunction, folinic acid in cerebral folate abnormalities and early treatment with vigabatrin in tuberous sclerosis complex. Finally, there is limited evidence for a number of novel treatments, particularly magnesium with pyridoxine, omega-3 fatty acids, the gluten-free casein-free diet, and low-frequency repetitive transcranial magnetic simulation. Zinc and l-carnosine are potential novel treatments supported by basic research but not clinical studies. This review demonstrates the wide variety of treatments used to treat seizures in individuals with ASD as well as the striking lack of clinical trials performed to support the use of these treatments. Additional studies concerning these treatments for controlling seizures in individuals with ASD are warranted.
There is a growing body of scientific evidence that the health of the microbiome (the trillions of microbes that inhabit the human host) plays an important role in maintaining the health of the host and that disruptions in the microbiome may play a role in certain disease processes. An increasing number of research studies have provided evidence that the composition of the gut (enteric) microbiome (GM) in at least a subset of individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) deviates from what is usually observed in typically developing individuals. There are several lines of research that suggest that specific changes in the GM could be causative or highly associated with driving core and associated ASD symptoms, pathology, and comorbidities which include gastrointestinal symptoms, although it is also a possibility that these changes, in whole or in part, could be a consequence of underlying pathophysiological features associated with ASD. However, if the GM truly plays a causative role in ASD, then the manipulation of the GM could potentially be leveraged as a therapeutic approach to improve ASD symptoms and/or comorbidities, including gastrointestinal symptoms.
One approach to investigating this possibility in greater detail includes a highly controlled clinical trial in which the GM is systematically manipulated to determine its significance in individuals with ASD. To outline the important issues that would be required to design such a study, a group of clinicians, research scientists, and parents of children with ASD participated in an interdisciplinary daylong workshop as an extension of the 1st International Symposium on the Microbiome in Health and Disease with a Special Focus on Autism (www.microbiome-autism.com). The group considered several aspects of designing clinical studies, including clinical trial design, treatments that could potentially be used in a clinical trial, appropriate ASD participants for the clinical trial, behavioral and cognitive assessments, important biomarkers, safety concerns, and ethical considerations. Overall, the group not only felt that this was a promising area of research for the ASD population and a promising avenue for potential treatment but also felt that further basic and translational research was needed to clarify the clinical utility of such treatments and to elucidate possible mechanisms responsible for a clinical response, so that new treatments and approaches may be discovered and/or fostered in the future.
Traditional and Non-Traditional Treatments for Autism Spectrum Disorder With Seizures: An On-Line Survey
Background: Despite the high prevalence of seizure, epilepsy and abnormal electroencephalograms in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), there is little information regarding the relative effectiveness of treatments for seizures in the ASD population. In order to determine the effectiveness of traditional and non-traditional treatments for improving seizures and influencing other clinical factor relevant to ASD, we developed a comprehensive on-line seizure survey.
Methods: Announcements (by email and websites) by ASD support groups asked parents of children with ASD to complete the on-line surveys. Survey responders choose one of two surveys to complete: a survey about treatments for individuals with ASD and clinical or subclinical seizures or abnormal electroencephalograms, or a control survey for individuals with ASD without clinical or subclinical seizures or abnormal electroencephalograms. Survey responders rated the perceived effect of traditional antiepileptic drug (AED), non-AED seizure treatments and non-traditional ASD treatments on seizures and other clinical factors (sleep, communication, behavior, attention and mood), and listed up to three treatment side effects.
Results: Responses were obtained concerning 733 children with seizures and 290 controls. In general, AEDs were perceived to improve seizures but worsened other clinical factors for children with clinical seizure. Valproic acid, lamotrigine, levetiracetam and ethosuximide were perceived to improve seizures the most and worsen other clinical factors the least out of all AEDs in children with clinical seizures. Traditional non-AED seizure and non-traditional treatments, as a group, were perceived to improve other clinical factors and seizures but the perceived improvement in seizures was significantly less than that reported for AEDs. Certain traditional non-AED treatments, particularly the ketogenic diet, were perceived to improve both seizures and other clinical factors. For ASD individuals with reported subclinical seizures, other clinical factors were reported to be worsened by AEDs and improved by non-AED traditional seizure and non-traditional treatments. The rate of side effects was reportedly higher for AEDs compared to traditional non-AED treatments.
Conclusion: Although this survey-based method only provides information regarding parental perceptions of effectiveness, this information may be helpful for selecting seizure treatments in individuals with ASD.
This manuscript reviews biological abnormalities shared by autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and epilepsy. Two neuropathological findings are shared by ASD and epilepsy: abnormalities in minicolumn architecture and γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) neurotransmission. The peripheral neuropil, which is the region that contains the inhibition circuits of the minicolumns, has been found to be decreased in the post-mortem ASD brain. ASD and epilepsy are associated with inhibitory GABA neurotransmission abnormalities including reduced GABAA and GABAB subunit expression. These abnormalities can elevate the excitation-to-inhibition balance, resulting in hyperexcitablity of the cortex and, in turn, increase the risk of seizures. Medical abnormalities associated with both epilepsy and ASD are discussed. These include specific genetic syndromes, specific metabolic disorders including disorders of energy metabolism and GABA and glutamate neurotransmission, mineral and vitamin deficiencies, heavy metal exposures and immune dysfunction. Many of these medical abnormalities can result in an elevation of the excitatory-to-inhibitory balance. Fragile X is linked to dysfunction of the mGluR5 receptor and Fragile X, Angelman and Rett syndromes are linked to a reduction in GABA[subscript A] receptor expression. Defects in energy metabolism can reduce GABA interneuron function. Both pyridoxine dependent seizures and succinic semialdehyde dehydrogenase deficiency cause GABA deficiencies while urea cycle defects and phenylketonuria cause abnormalities in glutamate neurotransmission. Mineral deficiencies can cause glutamate and GABA neurotransmission abnormalities and heavy metals can cause mitochondrial dysfunction which disrupts GABA metabolism. Thus, both ASD and epilepsy are associated with similar abnormalities that may alter the excitatory-to-inhibitory balance of the cortex. These parallels may explain the high prevalence of epilepsy in ASD and the elevated prevalence of ASD features in individuals with epilepsy.