New treatment significantly improves social skills and brain function
The treatment produced neurological changes, including a decrease in inflammation and an increase in functionality, the researchers said.
A recent Tel Aviv University study found that pressure chamber therapy significantly improved social skills and state of the autistic brain. The research was conducted on animal models of autism. The researchers discovered changes in the brain, including a decrease in neuroinflammation, which has been linked to autism. In addition, the social functioning of the animal models treated in the pressure chamber improved significantly. The success of the study has important implications for the applicability and understanding of pressure chamber therapy as a treatment for autism.
Inbar Fischer, a Ph.D. student in Dr. Boaz Barak at Tel Aviv University’s Sagol School of Neuroscience and School of Psychological Sciences, led the team that made the discovery. The findings were recently published in the International journal of molecular sciences.
According to Fischer and Barak, hyperbaric medicine is a type of treatment in which patients are treated in special chambers where the atmospheric pressure is greater than the pressure we experience at sea level, and they are also given 100% oxygen to breathe. Hyperbaric medicine is already used to treat a wide variety of medical conditions and is considered safe. In recent years, scientific evidence has accumulated that certain protocols of hyperbaric treatment stimulate the supply of blood and oxygen to the brain, thereby increasing brain function.
Dr. Barak: “The medical causes of autism are many and varied, ultimately creating the diverse autistic spectrum we are familiar with. About 20 percent of current autistic cases are explained by genetic causes, that is, those with genetic defects, but not necessarily those inherited from the parents. Despite the variety of sources of autism, the entire spectrum of behavioral problems associated with it still falls under the single broad heading of ‘autism,’ and the treatments and medications offered do not necessarily correspond directly to why the autism arose.”
In the preliminary phase of the study, a girl with the mutation in the SHANK3 gene, known to lead to autism, was treated by Prof. Shai Efrati, director of the Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine at Shamir “Assaf Harofeh” Medical Center, a faculty member at the Sagol School of Neuroscience, and a partner in the study. After completing a series of treatments in the pressure room, it was clear that the girl’s social skills and brain function had improved significantly.
In the next phase, and to better understand the success of the treatment, the team of researchers from Dr. Barak to understand what being in a pressure chamber does to the brain. To do this, the researchers used adult animal models with the same genetic mutation in the SHANK3 gene as that of the treated girl. The experiment involved a protocol of 40 one-hour treatments in a pressure chamber, which lasted several weeks.
Dr. Barak: “We discovered that treatment in the oxygen-enriched pressure chamber reduces inflammation in the brain and leads to an increase in the expression of substances responsible for improving blood and oxygen supply to the brain, and thus brain function. In addition, we saw a decrease in the number of microglial cells, cells of the immune system that indicate inflammation, which are associated with autism.
“Apart from the neurological findings we discovered, what interested us most was to see if these improvements in the brain also led to an improvement in social behavior, which is known to be impaired in autistic individuals,” adds Dr. Barrack.
“To our surprise, the findings showed a significant improvement in the social behavior of the animal models of autism that underwent treatment in the pressure chamber compared to those in the control group, which were exposed to air at normal pressure and without oxygen enrichment. The animal models that treated showed a greater social interest and preferred to spend more time in the company of new animals to which they were exposed compared to the control animal models.”
Inbar Fischer concludes: “The mutation in the animal models is identical to the mutation that exists in humans. Therefore, our research likely has clinical implications for improving the pathological state of autism due to this genetic mutation, and probably autism due to other causes as well. Because the pressure chamber treatment is non-intrusive and has been found to be safe, our findings are encouraging and show that this treatment can improve these behavioral and neurological aspects in humans as well, in addition to providing a scientific explanation for how they occur in humans. the brain.”
Reference: “Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Alleviates Social Behavioral Disorders and Neuroinflammation in a Mouse Model for Autism Spectrum Disorders” By Inbar Fischer, Sophie Shohat, Gilad Levy, Ela Bar, Sari Schokoroy Trangle, Shai Efrati, and Boaz Barak, September 21, 2022, International journal of molecular sciences.
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