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Researchers have tested potential new treatments for autism using a computer model modeling intricate protein interactions. Network modeling was used to build proteins associated with autism and to estimate how current medications might affect this network. The findings suggest that some chemicals may reduce the effects of autism’s underlying causes.

Modeling has already shown some chemicals that may be important for the emergence of autism. For example, it has been proposed that progesterone, a female sex hormone, and drospirenone, a synthetic progestin, may be connected to autism. The scientists drew attention to earlier studies that claimed progesterone was favorably linked with cognitive function in healthy individuals.

The study’s fundamental discovery was the possibility of using anti-diarrhea medication to treat the symptoms of autism. A medicine called loperamide has been used safely for almost 50 years. Future treatments for autism may benefit from understanding the mechanism of action of loperamide. Loperamide, however, can only affect the activation of opioid receptor proteins in the intestines since it cannot pass the brain-blood barrier.

The research was published in the journal Frontiers in Pharmacology.

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