Greetings Earthlings! 🙂
This week I’d like to discuss an interesting biomarker that is elevated in people with autism- lactate.
So what exactly is lactate?
Lactate, also known as lactic acid, is a bi-product of normal energy metabolism in the body. You might have heard of it in relation to exercise as lactic acid builds up in the muscles when oxygen is low leading to that burning sensation we sometimes experience. Normally the body produces energy by breaking down glucose in the mitochondria in our cells using oxygen (aerobic respiration), but when oxygen is low, glucose is broken down without oxygen (anaerobic respiration). This happens separately in the cytosol, the liquid inside of cells, where energy is produced along with the waste product lactic acid.
But what does all this have to do with autism?
Mitochondrial dysfunction is thought to be one of the possible causes of autism spectrum disorders as the nervous system is the most commonly impacted system. Recent studies supporting this theory have shown that lactate levels are elevated in autists which are thought to have an influence on behavioural issues. When mitochondria cannot perform efficiently to produce energy in autism, there are two potential alternatives- the cell may compensate using the anaerobic pathway described above, or by using something called the Warburg effect. The Warburg effect describes when energy is produced outside the mitochondria in the cytosol despite the presence of normal oxygen levels where lactate is produced as a bi-product. Research suggests that the canonical WNT/β-catenin pathway, which is involved in the regulation of the enzymes that control metabolism, is abnormally activated in autism leading to energy production via the Warburg effect. Interestingly, lactate is also elevated in lots of other disorders that can be co-morbid with autism such as bipolar disorder, depression, ADHD and gastrointestinal disorders.
Who knew that the pesky burn you feel during exercise could have such an influence on our brain chemistry!
Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!
Have a lovely weekend! 🙂