Bumetanide for autism: more eye contact, less amygdala activation

Bumetanide for autism: more eye contact, less amygdala activation
Nouchine Hadjikhani (Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Etats-Unis et Université de Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Suède), Eric Lemonnier (Centre Hospitalier Universitaire, Limoges, France) et Yehezkel Ben-Ari (Neurochlore, Marseille, France)

One of the permanent features of autistic patients is the fear of looking at the eyes which leads to and aggravates the weakness of communication and contact and thus reduces sociability. Indeed, the lack of visual communication at a young age makes it difficult to recognize the emotions and thus the socialization of autistic people. Using brain imaging techniques, a team led by Professors Nouchine Hadjikhani, Eric Lemonnier and Yehezkel Ben-Ari has determined the underlying mechanisms. The authors have asked patients (18-20 years old) to fix a cross placed between the eyes and have measured brain structures activated by looking at the interlocutor’s eyes. The results show that looking at the eyes activates in autistic patients the amygdala and other structures normally activated by fear or strong emotions. In other words, this correlates well with the remarks made by autistic patients saying that looking in the eyes is scary. We have concurrently conducted clinical trials showing that the administration of bumetanide, which reduces chlorine levels in neurons, attenuate the severity of autism. Based on these successful clinical trials, we tested in these patients the effects of the administration of this drug on the activation of brain regions by looking at the eyes of the interlocutor. This administration also attenuates the activation of these regions by the visual communication. In other words, and this is a first, this work allows us to understand why autistic patients do not look at the eyes and the underlying mechanisms involved in the excessive activation of brain regions involved in the fear circuit and reduced by the Bumetanide. These results reinforce the strategy of treating autism with bumetanide. We will soon begin a phase 3 in order to market this new drug.

N Hadjikhani, J Johnels, A lassalle, N Zurcher, L Hyppolyte, C Gillberg, E Lemonnier and Y Ben-Ari : Bumetanide for autism: more eye contact, less amygdala activation. Nature Scientific Reports, February 26th 2018

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