Common link between autism, diabetes identified
Washington: A new study has revealed a possible link between autism and type 2 diabetes.
Autism and ASD are neurological disorders that have a strong but poorly understood genetic basis.
“It appears that both Type 2 diabetes and autism have a common underlying mechanism -- impaired glucose tolerance and hyperinsulinemia,” said Rice University biochemist Michael Stern, author of the paper.
Hyperinsulinemia, often a precursor to insulin resistance, is a condition characterized by excess levels of insulin in the bloodstream. Insulin resistance is often associated with both obesity and Type 2 diabetes.
“It will be very easy for clinicians to test my hypothesis,” said Stern, professor of biochemistry and cell biology at Rice. “They could do this by putting autistic children on low-carbohydrate diets that minimize insulin secretion and see if their symptoms improve.”
Stern said the new finding also suggests that glucose tolerance in pregnant women may need to be addressed more seriously than it is now.
Stern said at least four genes associated with increased frequency in autism are known to produce proteins that play key roles in a biochemical pathway known as PI3K/Tor.
Stern said he had been studying a form of abnormal function in the synapses of fruit flies that was remarkably similar to abnormalities observed in rats and mice with defects in a different pathway known as mGluR-mediated long-term depression.
From his studies in both areas, Stern knew two things: PI3K/Tor was the major pathway for insulin signals within cells, and insulin could affect synapses in a remarkably similar way to the mGluR defects associated with autism.
Stern said he also found preliminary studies that indicated that low-carb diets were therapeutic for some individuals with autism and ASD.
The study has been published in the journal Frontiers in Cellular Endocrinology.