Arkansas Children’s Research Shows Folinic Acid Could Help Children with Autism Communicate Better

10.18.2016

Arkansas Children’s Research Shows Folinic Acid Could Help Children with Autism Communicate Better

 

Preliminary study also identifies specific biomarkers that can predict treatment response in children with autism and verbal communication problems

 

LITTLE ROCK, AR. (Oct. 18, 2016) – Prescription doses of folinic acid, which is a reduced form of a B vitamin known as folate, could help improve the language and communication skills of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to a study conducted at the Arkansas Children’s Research Institute (ACRI).

 

These are the preliminary findings from a placebo-controlled trial in which children were randomized to receive either high-dose folinic acid or a placebo, says lead author Richard Frye, MD, PhD, a pediatric neurologist and director of autism research at ACRI. He is also an associate professor of pediatrics in the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) College of Medicine.

 

The study, which is published in Springer Nature’s journal Molecular Psychiatry, also identified a specific blood marker that can be used to predict which patients have the best chance to respond to the treatment.

 

Up to 2 percent of American children are said to experience symptoms that place them on the autism spectrum. Many of these children have difficulty communicating and interacting with others, especially within a social setting. Researchers do not yet fully understand all the reasons behind the development of ASD and, importantly, there are currently no approved treatments that address the core symptoms or biological processes that may underlie the development of this complex disorder.

 

“Currently the only FDA-approved medications for autism are antipsychotic medications that address irritability and aggressive behavior – which are common symptoms associated with autism, but are not core features of what defines autism,” said John Slattery, co-author of the study and a clinical research program manager at ACRI and UAMS. “These medications can often lead to unwanted side effects such as increased weight gain and increased risk for type II diabetes and obesity. These mediations also don’t address the biological processes involved in autism which may promote the disorder’s defining behavioral features.”
 

Scientific research has linked this disorder to abnormalities in the metabolism of folate as well as genes that are involved in folate metabolism. Certain studies have also shown that the offspring of women who took folate supplements before conception and during pregnancy had a lower risk of having a child with ASD.

 

About 10 years ago a condition, known as cerebral folate deficiency (CFD), was described in which the concentration of folate is below normal in the central nervous system but not in the blood. Many children with CFD had ASD symptoms and responded well to treatment with high-dose folinic acid.

 

Previously Frye’s team showed that folate receptor autoantibodies were found with a high prevalence in children with ASD. In the current study, these researchers found that participants with folate receptor autoantibodies had a more favourable response to the folinic acid treatment. This leads the way to a test that might be useful for clinicians to determine if high-dose folinic acid might be a treatment for a particular child with ASD. The deleterious effects of folate receptor autoantibodies on brain development and function are now confirmed in a laboratory rat model of autism.

 

“Improvement in verbal communication was significantly greater in participants receiving folinic acid as compared with those receiving the placebo,” says Frye. He adds that the findings should be considered preliminary until the treatment has been assessed further in larger long-term studies.

 

Frye and Slattery indicated they were very pleased with the positive findings of this study, but caution that more research is needed in order to replicate the findings in a larger population.

 

Dr. Frye’s research program has been supported, in part, by funds from the Arkansas Biosciences Institute, the major research component of the Tobacco Settlement Proceeds Act of 2000.

 

Reference: Frye, R.E. et al. (2016). Folinic acid improves verbal communication in children with autism and language impairment: A randomized double-blind placebo controlled trial, Molecular Psychiatry, DOI:10.1038/mp.2016.168

 

Arkansas Children’s, Inc. is the only hospital system in the state solely dedicated to caring for children, which allows the organization to uniquely shape the landscape of pediatric care in Arkansas. The system includes a 359-bed hospital in Little Rock with the state’s only pediatric Level 1 Trauma Center, burn center, Level 4 neonatal intensive care and pediatric intensive care, and research institute as well as a nationally-recognized transport service. It is one of the 25 largest children’s hospitals in the United States and is nationally ranked by U.S. News World & Report in pulmonology and neonatal care. A sister campus is under development in Northwest Arkansas and will bring 233,613 square feet of inpatient beds, emergency care, clinic rooms and diagnostic services to children in that corner of the state. Arkansas Children’s also blankets the state with outreach programs that include telemedicine, mobile health, and school-based health solutions. A private not-for-profit, Arkansas Children’s boasts an internationally renowned reputation for medical breakthroughs and intensive treatments, unique surgical procedures and forward-thinking research and is committed to providing every child with access to the best care available, regardless of location or resources. Founded as an orphanage, Arkansas Children’s has championed children by making them better today and healthier tomorrow for more than 100 years. For more info, visit archildrens.org.


ACRI is a free-standing state-of-the-art pediatric research center which provides a research environment on the ACH campus to foster research and scholarship of faculty members of University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences who are investigating questions relative to development, disease and treatment as it relates to the health of infants, children and adolescents. Physician and biomedical scientist investigators at ACRI and the Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center (ACNC) conduct clinical, basic science, and health services research for the purpose of treating illnesses and preventing disease and thereby, improving the health of the children of Arkansas and beyond.
 

UAMS is the state’s only comprehensive academic health center, with colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Professions and Public Health; a graduate school; a hospital; a northwest Arkansas regional campus; a statewide network of regional centers; and seven institutes: the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, the Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, the Myeloma Institute, the Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, the Psychiatric Research Institute, the Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging and the Translational Research Institute. It is the only adult Level 1 trauma center in the state. UAMS has 3,021 students, 789 medical residents and two dental residents. It is the state’s largest public employer with more than 10,000 employees, including about 1,000 physicians and other professionals who provide care to patients at UAMS, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the VA Medical Center and UAMS regional centers throughout the state. Visit www.uams.edu or www.uamshealth.com. Find us on FacebookTwitter,YouTube or Instagram.

 

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