French researchers test autism drug in children

Karen Weintraub:

French researchers are testing a drug they hope will flip a chemical switch in the brains of children with autism.
If the switch isn’t flipped at birth, the brain remains overexcited and becomes vulnerable to injury – and that’s what a group of French researchers think happens in the brains of babies who go on to develop autism, according to a paper published today in the journal Science.
They hope that a drug they are testing in European children will make a crucial difference, allowing brain networks to develop more typically, said lead researcher Yehezkel Ben-Ari of the French Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale, in Marseille, France.
Autism is a spectrum of social and communication differences and repetitive behaviors; symptoms range from social awkwardness to behavior problems and an inability to speak. The seeds of autism are believed to be laid during early pregnancy, from a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
The new paper showed that in rats and mice with a rodent form of autism the brain chemical GABA didn’t make its normal switch from stimulating electrical activity in the brain to tamping it down. When their pregnant mothers were given the drug, bumetanide, a generic diuretic long used to treat high blood pressure, the switch happened – and the rodents didn’t show autistic behaviors.