I’ve posted a new brain blog on www.autismWHYandHOW.org. It summarizes new frontiers in brain research totally consistent with what I said in Chapter 5 of The Autism Revolution. That chapter, called “Help the Body Mend the Brain,” centered around “glial” cells, previously put quietly in background behind the almighty neurons, but now getting the center stage role they deserve. Glial cells (along with mitochondria) may be what especially allow the body to help mend the brain.
Here is an excerpt from the blog:
This paper (entitled “Wild-type microglia arrest pathology in a mouse model of Rett syndrome“) is remarkable because it shows that our previous research into Rett syndrome – which primarily addressed dysfunctional neurons – was incomplete. The mice in this study got better because they got new microglia that functioned better. The microglia they’d started with took a hit from the Rett genetic mutation and weren’t doing their job of “taking out the trash” from the neuronal environment. When the healthy microglia came into the system and started doing their job, the disease stopped getting worse and stayed stable – quite unlike the normal course of the condition. When the scientists tested this idea by stopping the “garbage collection” role of the microglia, all the gains were lost and the mice got sicker.
Amazingly, nothing was done to the neuron itself in the intervention. Just the microglia. This suggests that the symptoms of the disorder might be driven by mischief related to the microglia, not just genetic insults to the neurons, as has been assumed. Maybe the problem is the garbage created by the chaos and dysfunction from the gene mutations, not just (or even not mainly) the gene mutation’s impact on the neurons.
So is Rett Syndrome really “neuro”developmental? Or does that term mislead us and put blinders on our vision? Doug Fields, author of THE OTHER BRAIN, a wonderfully readable book on glial cells, suggests as much.
If this is true, is it also possible that conditions like autism, which have also been assumed to be due to neuronal problems, might also be highly shaped by microglial problems? In the case of Rett Syndrome, microglia are messed up for genetic reasons. In lots of other conditions, including autism, microglia may well be activated for some other reason — perhaps just environmental exposure since many exposures and infections can activate microglia. This means that addressing environmental issues – improving food and reducing toxic exposures – may help a lot.
Even in Rett syndrome, where there is certainly a genetic problem, isn’t is possible that more toxic environmental exposures and poor nutrition could make things worse – or vice versa – could healthy environmental inputs improve wellbeing in meaningful ways, slowing the disease’s progression and making people with Rett syndrome less uncomfortable? So often, doctors quite trying to look for ways to help when they find a gene – but even then, perhaps other things can still make life better.
To help microglia cells do better, we may not need to identify a specific molecule to target with a drug. If we improve health – through taking care of optimizing food, avoiding toxins and infection and minimizing stress – as I lay out in my book The Autism Revolution: Whole Body Strategies for Making Life All It Can Be – microglial cells won’t have to work so hard fighting off dangers and may be more effective at everyday housekeeping. READ MORE…