Autism Spectrum Disorders
Autism affects 3.5 million children in the United States, with about 200,000 new cases per year. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that the worldwide prevalence of autism is 13.8 million individuals, making it the 7th largest brain disorder. It is a highly variable, neurodevelopmental disorder whose symptoms first appear during infancy or childhood, and generally follows a steady course without improvement.
Recently, there have been a number of reports in both animal models of autism and in autistic patients that there is vascular dysfunction evident in this disease. The human brain contains approximately 100 billion blood vessels, all of which are critical for the delivery of nutrients and oxygen to neurons and other brain cells that support neurons, including glial cells and astrocytes.
The vascular problem in autism appears to be focused on the autistic brain’s inability to grow new blood vessels (angiogenesis) as depicted in the figure below. In particular, when additional demands for a ramped-up blood supply is needed by the brain, this lack of adequate “piping” causes problems.
This lack of sufficient angiogenesis leads to a decrease in capillary and arteriole density in areas of the brain that control important activities, including social interactions, communication and impulse control, activities that become disrupted in autism.
Brain imaging with functional MRI can map changes in cerebral blood flow (CBF) or blood oxygenation in the brains of individuals with autism. Numerous studies
have established that cerebral blood flow disruptions in different regions of the brain can be demonstrated in autistic patients when compared to healthy controls.
As shown in the figure below, in human autistic brains there are specific regions of the brain (in yellow) that have reduced brain blood perfusion when compared to normal brains (normal blood flow appears as a red color).
A very plausible explanation for this reduced blood flow in the autistic brain activity could be that it is brought about by decreased angiogenesis. As FGF-1 is one of the most potent angiogenic agents in our bodies, and when we couple this with the fact that we have a safe and relatively easy manner to deliver FGF-1 into the brain via intranasal delivery, Zhittya is very excited to offer FGF-1 as a potentially promising new treatment for individuals with autism.