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Benzodiazepines found to curb autistic behaviors

Low doses of benzodiazepines were found to curb the majority of autistic behaviors in mice that were engineered to be autistic by Dr. William Catterall of the University of Washington in Seattle and colleagues according to their report in the March 19, 2014, edition of the journal Neuron.

Michelle Wie plays during the Els for Autism Pro-am at The PGA National Golf Club on March 10, 2014, in Palm Beach, Florida.
Michelle Wie plays during the Els for Autism Pro-am at The PGA National Golf Club on March 10, 2014, in Palm Beach, Florida.
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The researchers found that very low doses of clonazepam restored the balance between the activity of excitatory neurons and inhibitory neurons in the brain. The imbalance of activity between the two types of neurons is thought to be a major cause of the social deficits, repetitive behavior, and learning deficits seen in autism.

The researchers also demonstrated that reducing the activity of the inhibitory neurons in the brain induced autism-like symptoms in the test animals.

This is the first demonstration of a high level of success in treating autism symptoms by reducing inhibitory neuron activity instead of reducing excitatory neuron activity. Treatment by reducing excitatory neuron activity has seen little success.

This is a treatment for autism symptoms. It is not a cure for autism. Human trials are in progress under the auspices of the National Institutes of Health.

Benzodiazepines can be addictive. The choice of clonazepam, the benzodiazepine that demonstrates the lowest potential for addiction, and the minimal size of the dose used to produce the desired effect should prevent alarm in parents of autistic children and reactionary government officials.