The treatment caused neurological changes, including a decrease in inflammation and an increase in functionality, according to the researchers.
A recent study from Tel Aviv University found that pressure chamber therapy significantly improved social skills and brain status in autistic people. The research was conducted on animal models of autism. The researchers found changes in the brain, including a decrease in neuroinflammation, which has been linked to autism. Additionally, the social functioning of the animal models treated in the pressure chamber was significantly improved. The success of the research has important implications for the applicability and understanding of pressure chamber therapy as a treatment for autism.
Inbar Fischer, Ph.D. a student in Dr. Boaz Barak’s lab at the Sagol School of Neuroscience and the School of Psychological Sciences at Tel Aviv University, led the team that made the discovery. The results were recently published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences.
According to Fischer and Barak, hyperbaric medicine is a kind of treatment in which patients are treated in special chambers where the atmospheric pressure is higher 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 range of medical conditions and is considered safe. Scientific evidence has accumulated in recent years that certain hyperbaric treatment protocols 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, and ultimately create the diverse autism spectrum with which we are familiar. About 20% of autism cases today are due to genetic causes, that is, those involving genetic defects, but not necessarily those that are inherited from parents. Despite the variety of sources of autism, all of the behavioral problems associated with it are still included under the single heading of “autism”, and the treatments and medications offered do not necessarily correspond directly to the reason why the autism has developed.
In the preliminary phase of the study, a girl carrying the SHANK3 gene mutation, known to lead to autism, was treated by Professor Shai Efrati, Director of the Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine at Shamir “Assaf Harofeh” Medical Center, Sagol School of Neuroscience faculty member and study partner. After completing a series of treatments in the pressure chamber, it was evident that the girl’s social skills and brain function had improved significantly.
As a next step, and in order to get a deeper insight into the success of the treatment, the team of researchers in Dr. Barak’s lab set out to understand what being in a pressurized chamber does to the brain. For this, the researchers used adult animal models carrying the same genetic mutation of the SHANK3 gene as that carried by the girl who had been treated. The experiment included a protocol of 40 one-hour treatments in a pressure chamber, which lasted several weeks.
Dr. Barak: “We found that treatment in the oxygen-enriched pressure chamber reduces inflammation in the brain and leads to increased expression of substances responsible for improving blood supply and oxygen to the brain, and therefore to brain function. Additionally, we found a decrease in the number of microglial cells, immune system cells that indicate inflammation associated with autism.
“Beyond the neurological findings we found, what we were most interested in was seeing whether these improvements in the brain also lead to improved social behavior, which is known to be impaired in autistic people.” , adds Dr. Barak.
“To our surprise, the results showed significant improvement in the social behavior of animal models of autism who underwent treatment in the pressure chamber compared to those in the control group, who were exposed to pressurized air. normal and without oxygen enrichment. Animal models that underwent treatment showed increased social interest, preferring to spend more time in the company of novel animals to which they were exposed compared to animal models in the control group.
Inbar Fischer concludes: “The mutation in animal models is identical to the mutation that exists in humans. Therefore, our research is likely to have clinical implications for improving the disease state of autism resulting from this genetic mutation, and likely also autism resulting from other causes. Because pressure chamber treatment is non-intrusive and has been shown to be safe, our results are encouraging and demonstrate that this treatment can also improve these behavioral and neurological aspects in humans, in addition to offering a scientific explanation for the how they occur in the brain.”
Reference: “Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Relieves Social Behavioral Dysfunction 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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