Cannabinoid Gel Treats Fragile X Syndrome

April 23, 2018 · Posted in Potential Treatments · Comment 
cannabidiol gel

Zynerba’s website depicts the gel

Fragile X syndrome is a genetic disorder characterized by developmental problems such as intellectual disabilities, cognitive impairment, and behavioral and learning challenges. Zynerba Pharmaceuticals announced in 2017 that a cannabinoid gel they have produced improved symptoms of fragile x syndrome in children and adolescents when applied daily to the upper arm.

Multiple cannabinoids are derived from cannabis plants, and include cannabidiol, which likely conveys some of the plant’s positive effects, and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which lends marijuana its psychoactive or psychomimetic effects, such as delusion or delirium. Cannabidiol is the active ingredient in the gel, and no THC was found in participants’ blood tests after using the gel.

The open study of 20 patients aged 6 to 17 years found that the participants showed improvement on a scale measuring anxiety, depression, and mood after 12 weeks of using the gel. The gel also appeared to improve aberrant behaviors including social avoidance, temper tantrums, repetitive movements, and hyperactivity. Treatment began at a dose of 50mg per day, and could be increased up to 250 mg per day within the first six weeks of the study. The dose then remained stable for the next six weeks.

Zynerba Pharmaceuticals hope to begin controlled clinical trials in 2018, with the goal of attaining approval for the drug from the US Food and Drug Administration. Other companies are also competing to garner the first FDA approval of a cannabis-based drug. Many of the drugs currently in development are intended to target neurological or behavioral conditions.

Pediatric Bipolar Disorder Diagnoses Much More Common in US than England

April 19, 2018 · Posted in Diagnosis, Political Commentary · Comment 

Outline of the USA 2014 article by Anthony James and colleagues in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry reported that hospitalizations for pediatric bipolar disorder are 72.1 times higher in the US than in England.

The researchers determined that there were 100.9 diagnoses of pediatric bipolar disorder per 100,000 people in the US, but only 1.4 cases per 100,000 people in Britain. The discrepancy in diagnoses for adult bipolar disorder and for other childhood psychiatry illnesses were smaller but still notable: While 158.2 adults per 100,000 in the US were diagnosed with bipolar disorder, only 22.1 adults per 100,000 in England received such a diagnosis, making the diagnosis of bipolar disorder in adults 7.2 times more common in the US. Diagnoses of childhood attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) were 13.0 times more common in the US than in England, while cases of childhood depression were 4.2 times more common in the US.

James and colleagues hypothesized several potential reasons for the dramatic difference in diagnosis rates at hospital discharge of bipolar disorder in children in the US versus England. The lower hospitalization rates for pediatric bipolar disorder in England may reflect the better availability of community or outpatient treatment options there. Diagnostic practices may also differ. James and colleagues suggested that in the US, pediatric diagnoses of bipolar disorder are often used to describe children and adolescents with irritability and frequent mood shifts, whereas English diagnostic practices rely more on episodic bouts of euphoria to diagnose bipolar disorder in children.

However, children in the US may simply be more likely to have a variety of childhood psychiatric disorders than those from England.

Editor’s Note: Epidemiological data support the view that bipolar disorder not otherwise specified (BP-NOS), which is often the earliest manifestation of bipolar disorder, is indeed much more common in the US than multiple other countries.

Even if there are some diagnostic differences that contribute to the immense 72.1 fold higher rates of hospitalization for childhood bipolar in the US compared to Britain, one cannot overlook the findings that these children are requiring hospitalization for something resembling bipolar disorder and are in need of treatment. Read more

FDA Approves Lurasidone for Bipolar Depression in Children and Adolescents

April 16, 2018 · Posted in Current Treatments · Comment 

In March 2018, the US Food and Drug Administration approved the antipsychotic drug lurasidone (Latuda) for the treatment of bipolar depression in children and adolescents aged 10–17 years. Lurasidone was already approved for adults with bipolar depression, as an add-on treatment to the mood stabilizers lithium and valproate, and for schizophrenia in people aged 13 years and up.

A 6-week clinical trial in 347 youth compared lurasidone (in doses ranging from 20 to 80 mg/day) to placebo and found that those who received lurasidone showed significant improvements in depression compared to those who received placebo. The average dose was below 40 mg/day. The research by Melissa P. DelBello and colleagues was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in 2017.

In the study, lurasidone was well-tolerated. Side effects included nausea, sleepiness, minimal weight gain, and insomnia. Lurasidone did not seem to affect glucose, triglycerides, cholesterol, or blood pressure.

Editor’s Note: This is the first drug to be approved for bipolar depression in this age range. This editor (Robert M. Post) has written extensively on the high incidence of childhood onset bipolar disorder in the US, and especially in the offspring of parents with bipolar disorder.
It is important to be alert to the possibilities of depression and bipolar disorder in children in the US (along with related illnesses such as anxiety, oppositional defiant disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)), as early-onset illness tends to have a more severe long-term course than adult-onset depression and bipolar disorder. A longer delay between the emergence of symptoms and the first treatment for bipolar disorder is also a risk factor for more severe depression, more time depressed, and a poorer outcome in adulthood.

Parents of children aged 2-12 who have mood or behavioral problems are encouraged to consider joining the Child Network at our website, bipolarnews.org (click on the tab for the Child Network). By participating in this research network, parents are able to make a weekly rating of the severity of their children’s symptoms of anxiety, depression, ADHD, oppositional behavior, and mania via the secure website. The ratings can then be shared with the child’s clinicians for easy visualization of the course of symptoms over time, which may help with treatment decisions.

Clinical Vignettes from Dr. Elizabeth Stuller

April 11, 2018 · Posted in Potential Treatments · Comment 

Dr. Elizabeth Stuller, a staff psychiatrist at the Amen clinics in Washington, DC and CEO of private practice Stuller Resettings in Baltimore, MD, provided this editor (Robert M. Post) with several interesting anecdotal observations based on her wide clinical experience with difficult-to-treat mood disordered patients.

  1. Stuller has used low-dose asenapine (Saphris), e.g. half a pill placed under the tongue, for depressed patients with alcohol use problems who have trouble getting to sleep. She has also used asenapine for rapid calming of agitated patients in her office.
  2. Stuller has also had success with the use of the atypical antipsychotic drug brexpiprazole (Rexulti) for patients with bipolar depression and low energy. She typically uses 0.5 mg/day for women and 1 mg/day for men. Stuller finds that there is little weight gain or akathisia with brexpiprazole.
  3. She has had success with the drug Nuedexta, which is a combination of dextromethorphan and quinidine and is approved for the treatment of sudden uncontrollable bouts of laughing or crying, known as pseudobulbar affect, which can occur as a result of neurological conditions or brain injuries. It is a combination of an NMDA antagonist and a sigma receptor agonist. Stuller starts with the 20mg dextromethorphan/10 mg quinidine dose once a day and increases to twice a day in week two. She finds it useful for behavioral effects of traumatic brain injury (TBI), anxiety resulting from the use of synthetic marijuana (sometimes called spice), and psychosis not otherwise specified. Stuller also finds that some patients appear to respond well to Nuedextra but not minocycline, or vice versa.

Editor’s Note: Note that these are preliminary clinical anecdotes conveyed in a personal communication, and have not been studied in clinical trials, thus should not be relied upon in the making of medical decisions. All decisions about treatment are the responsibility of a treating physician.

Nutritional Supplement ALC Improves Depression

March 26, 2018 · Posted in Potential Treatments · Comment 

vitaminA meta-analysis of 12 studies suggests that the nutrient acetyl-l-carnitine (ALC), when taken as a nutritional supplement, has antidepressant effects. The meta-analysis by researcher Nicola Veronese and colleagues appeared in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine in 2017. Veronese and colleagues found that in nine randomized controlled trials, ALC reduced depressive symptoms significantly compared to placebo. In three randomized controlled trials that compared ALC with established antidepressants, ALC showed similar effectiveness at reducing depressive symptoms while producing 79% fewer side effects. Doses of ALC ranged from 1 to 4 grams per day, and higher doses led to greater improvement.

In the comparisons with antidepressants, the other treatments included fluoxetine (Prozac), duloxetine (Cymbalta), and amisulpride (which is not approved by the US Food and Drug Administration).

Low ALC has been linked to depression. According to Veronese and colleagues, ALC deficiency can dysregulate the transport of fatty acids across the inner membrane of mitochondria. The researchers suggest several ways that ALC might contribute to an improvement in depression. One is that is seems to promote neuroplasticity in cerebral regions implicated in depression, such as the hippocampus. It could also work by increasing brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which protects neurons and is important for learning and memory. ALC decreases release of the neurotransmitter glutamate by increasing the production of the inhibitory metabotrophic glutamate receptor (mGluR-2) on presynaptic glutamate neurons . Another way ALC might work is by normalizing lipid metabolism. Or it could modulate neurotransmitters, increasing serotonin and dopamine and protecting against stress.

In the meta-analysis, ALC produced more improvement in older patients than in younger ones. The researchers stressed the need for better treatments for older people, which may experience falls, cardiovascular disease, or increased mortality from antidepressants.

ALC also seems to improve pain syndromes, making it a good option for patients with both depression and pain symptoms.

Veronese and colleagues cited another meta-analysis that found that taking ALC in addition to an antidepressant led to lower rates of adverse events than the antidepressants alone, which helped patients adhere to their drug regimen.

In Animals, Exposure to High Fat Diet During Pregnancy Can Affect Offspring’s Neurological Development

March 19, 2018 · Posted in Risk Factors · Comment 

baby macaque feeding

New research in non-human primates suggests that exposure to a high fat diet during pregnancy and in early development prior to weaning can increase the offspring’s propensity for anxiety later in life.

The new research echoes 2010 findings about rats. Researcher Staci D. Bilbo and colleagues reported in the journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology that in rats, a high fat diet during pregnancy and lactation led to offspring with greater body weight, increased inflammation, and problems with anxiety and spatial learning. Switching to a standard diet after weaning did not eliminate these outcomes.

The recent research by Jacqueline R. Thompson and colleagues, published in the journal Frontiers in Endocrinology in July 2017, suggests that maternal nutrition in the primate during pregnancy and lactation can have long-lasting effects on offspring’s neurological development, altering the brain and endocrine system. These changes occurred even if the offspring began a normal diet after weaning.

65 female Japanese macaques were divided into two groups, one that received a high-fat diet and one that received a normal diet. In the offspring of mothers who ate a high-fat diet, the researchers found impaired development of neurons containing serotonin. The offspring of the high-fat diet group also showed behavioral alterations such as increased anxiety.

The high rates of obesity in the US and other developed nations make these findings particularly important. The researchers suggest that 64% of women in the US who are of reproductive age are overweight, and 35% are obese. Co-author Elinor Sullivan suggested that the findings from the study could motivate mothers to make healthy nutritional decisions, not only for themselves but for their children as well.

Phthalates in Plastics and Creams Cause Epigenetic Changes to Sperm

March 16, 2018 · Posted in Genetics, Risk Factors · Comment 

sperm

A recent study suggests that chemicals called phthalates that are used to make plastic flexible and to improve the texture of lotions, creams, and powders have effects on human sperm. Phthalates have become common in our environment since the invention of plastics, and most people have detectable levels of phthalate metabolites in their bodies.

The study, published by Haotian Wu and colleagues in the journal Human Reproduction in 2017, measured DNA methylation in a group of men’s sperm and compared this to levels of phthalate metabolites in the men’s urine.

DNA methylation changes the structure of a DNA strand. Extra methyl groups are attached to the strand, affecting the way it is transcribed, even though the inherited genetic sequence on the DNA strand remains the same. Changes like these to the structure of DNA and histones, which give DNA its helix shape, are known as epigenetic changes.

Wu and colleagues found 131 regions of DNA methylation in the men’s sperm that they could link to at least one of the phthalate metabolites found in the men’s urine.

Sperm takes 72 days to mature. Wu and colleagues suggest that exposure to phthalates in plastics or personal care products during this period may cause alterations to sperm, which could potentially affect the ease of conception or the development of potential offspring. The changes the researchers observed affected genes related to growth, development, and cellular function and maintenance.

In addition to chemical exposure, stressors and drug use can also bring about epigenetic changes to sperm. A father’s offspring may then have altered risk of drug use or other behaviors as a result of these epigenetic changes.

Phthalates, which can disrupt the endocrine system, have previously been found to alter men’s hormone levels and to hurt sperm quality. This is the first study to find that in people, phthalate concentrations measured before conception are associated with DNA methylation in sperm. This was a fairly small study in 48 men, and it remains to be studied whether the changes to sperm affect the offspring’s prenatal and early childhood development.
In addition to their presence in flexible plastics, phthalates may also be found in products such as shaving cream, shampoo, soaps, and detergents.

Using Antidepressants During Pregnancy Likely Does Not Increase Autism Risk

March 14, 2018 · Posted in Current Treatments · Comment 

antidepressants during pregnancy

In the past year or so, several meta-analyses have analyzed data from numerous studies of a possible link between antidepressant use in pregnancy and autism in the offspring. In a 2017 article in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, researcher Chittaranjan Andrade offers a meta-analysis of these previous meta-analyses, and determines that while there is a small link between antidepressant use in pregnancy and autism in the offspring, it is most likely the mother’s depressive illness rather than the medications that is responsible for this link.

Andrade found that antidepressant exposure was linked to an increased risk of autism spectrum disorders in the offspring even when the antidepressant use occurred only before conception occurred, when it could not possibly have affected the future fetus’ physiology. This implies that it is the mother’s illness rather than the antidepressant treatment that is a determinant of autism risk.

Atypical Antipsychotic Drug Aripiprazole Appropriate for Pregnancies

March 12, 2018 · Posted in Current Treatments · Comment 

pregnant womanA 2017 systematic review in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that the atypical antipsychotic medication apripiprazole (Abilify) was relatively safe for use during pregnancy and lactation. Researcher Alessandro Cuomo and colleagues reviewed 93 articles from the last two decades of research.

Placebo-controlled research on medications used during pregnancy are uncommon, due to ethical reservations about assigning women randomly to each group when their fetus may be affected. However, Cuomo and colleagues were able to find some large prospective studies and large database studies that shed light on aripiprazole’s safety during pregnancy. They concluded that the data on aripiprazole during pregnancy and breastfeeding were “relatively reassuring” and that the benefits of aripiprazole outweigh the potential risks.

Risks of relapse upon discontinuing a mood stabilizer can be as high as 80%. Illness in the mother conveys risks to the fetus, so the risk-benefit ratio may suggest that staying on effective aripiprazole treatment during pregnancy and lactation makes sense for many patients.

In a comment on the study reported by Reuters Health, Dr. Jennifer L. Payne of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine said, “The main reason to discontinue aripiprazole for pregnancy…would be if it is not working and the mother is actively ill, or if she insisted on doing so. In my mind, the literature supports the use of aripiprazole during pregnancy in mothers with serious mental illness who are responding well to the medication.”

Folate Supplements Reduce Autism Rates in Offspring of Women Taking Anti-Epileptic Drugs During Pregnancy

March 9, 2018 · Posted in Current Treatments · Comment 

supplementsA 2017 study form Norway suggests that the offspring of women taking anti-epileptic drugs during pregnancy are less likely to develop autism if the women also take folic acid supplements.

The study by Marte Bjørk and colleagues in the journal JAMA Neurology used data from 104,936 children aged 18 to 36 months. Those whose mothers took anti-epileptic drugs during pregnancy had elevated autism rates, but only if their mothers did not use folic acid supplements. The mothers’ folate levels in weeks 17 to 19 of their pregnancies were inversely related to the degree of autistic traits in their offspring.

Women without epilepsy and women whose epilepsy went untreated during pregnancy had children with similarly low rates of autism to those whose mothers supplemented their anti-epileptic medications with folic acid during pregnancy.

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