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Pregnancy Timeline by SemestersFetal liver is producing blood cellsHead may position into pelvisBrain convolutions beginFull TermWhite fat begins to be madeWhite fat begins to be madeHead may position into pelvisImmune system beginningImmune system beginningPeriod of rapid brain growthBrain convolutions beginLungs begin to produce surfactantSensory brain waves begin to activateSensory brain waves begin to activateInner Ear Bones HardenBone marrow starts making blood cellsBone marrow starts making blood cellsBrown fat surrounds lymphatic systemFetal sexual organs visibleFinger and toe prints appearFinger and toe prints appearHeartbeat can be detectedHeartbeat can be detectedBasic Brain Structure in PlaceThe Appearance of SomitesFirst Detectable Brain WavesA Four Chambered HeartBeginning Cerebral HemispheresFemale Reproductive SystemEnd of Embryonic PeriodEnd of Embryonic PeriodFirst Thin Layer of Skin AppearsThird TrimesterSecond TrimesterFirst TrimesterFertilizationDevelopmental Timeline
CLICK ON weeks 0 - 40 and follow along every 2 weeks of fetal development
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Home | Pregnancy Timeline | News Alerts |News Archive March 5, 2014

 

Autism, which is characterized by abnormal social behavior,
has previously been linked to low levels of serotonin in the brain
and to low vitamin D levels in the blood.
No mechanism linked the two until now.

Image Credit: AGcommunicators.org.






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Link between Vitamin D, Serotonin and Autism

Dietary interventions have relevance for prevention and possibly for treatment of autism.

Rhonda Patrick, PhD and Bruce Ames, PhD of Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI) have published a new study demonstrating the impact Vitamin D may have on social behavior associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Their work appears in The FASEB Journal.


Drs. Patrick and Ames show serotonin, oxytocin, and vasopressin, all brain hormones affecting social behavior, are activated by the vitamin D hormone.

Autism, which is characterized by abnormal social behavior, has previously been linked to low levels of serotonin in the brain and to low vitamin D levels in the blood. No mechanism linked the two until now.

Patrick and Ames show that vitamin D hormone activates genes to make the enzyme tryptophan hydroxylase 2 (TPH2), which converts amino acid tryptophan into the brain hormone serotonin.


This connection suggests that adequate levels of vitamin D may be required to produce serotonin as it shapes the structure and wiring of the brain, acting as a neurotransmitter affecting social behavior.


They also found evidence the gene making the enzyme tryptophan hydroxylase 1 (TPH1) is inhibited by vitamin D hormone, halting the production of serotonin in the gut and other tissues, where in excess it promotes inflammation.

This mechanism explains many of the known, but previously confusing facts about autism including:

1) the "serotonin anomaly": low levels of serotonin in the brain and high levels in the blood of autistic children

2) increased male over female autistic children: estrogen - a similar steroid hormone - can boost brain levels of serotonin in girls

3) the presence of autoimmune antibodies to the fetal brain in mothers of autistic children: vitamin D regulates production of regulatory T-cells by repressing TPH1.

The Patrick/Ames mechanism is relevant to the prevention of autism, and likely its treatment.


Current guidelines for adequate vitamin D levels are concentrations above 30 ng/ml. Most Americans' vitamin D is made in the skin from exposure to UVB radiation; however, melanin pigment and sunscreen inhibit this action. This is an important cause of the well-known widespread vitamin D deficiency among dark-pigmented Americans, particularly those living in Northern latitudes.

The most recent National Health and Examination survey reports that greater than 70% of U.S. population does not meet this requirement and that adequate vitamin D levels have plummeted over the last couple of decades. This precipitous drop in adequate levels of vitamin D in the US is concurrent with the rise in autism rates.


The study suggests dietary intervention with vitamin D, tryptophan and omega 3 fatty acids would boost brain serotonin concentrations and help prevent and possibly ameliorate some of the symptoms associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), without side effects.


There is little vitamin D present in food and fortification is still inadequate as is the amount in most multivitamin and prenatal supplements. Vitamin D supplements are inexpensive and offer a simple solution to raise vitamin D levels to an adequate status. In addition, vitamin D levels should be routinely measured in everyone and should become a standard procedure in prenatal care.

Abstract
Serotonin and vitamin D have been proposed to play a role in autism; however, no causal mechanism has been established. Here, we present evidence that vitamin D hormone (calcitriol) activates the transcription of the serotonin-synthesizing gene tryptophan hydroxylase 2 (TPH2) in the brain at a vitamin D response element (VDRE) and represses the transcription of TPH1 in tissues outside the blood-brain barrier at a distinct VDRE. The proposed mechanism explains 4 major characteristics associated with autism: the low concentrations of serotonin in the brain and its elevated concentrations in tissues outside the blood-brain barrier; the low concentrations of the vitamin D hormone precursor 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D3]; the high male prevalence of autism; and the presence of maternal antibodies against fetal brain tissue. Two peptide hormones, oxytocin and vasopressin, are also associated with autism and genes encoding the oxytocin-neurophysin I preproprotein, the oxytocin receptor, and the arginine vasopressin receptor contain VDREs for activation. Supplementation with vitamin D and tryptophan is a practical and affordable solution to help prevent autism and possibly ameliorate some symptoms of the disorder.—Patrick, R. P., Ames, B. N. Vitamin D hormone regulates serotonin synthesis. Part 1: relevance for autism

About Children's Hospital & Research Center Oakland
Children's Hospital & Research Center Oakland is a premier, not-for-profit medical center for children in Northern California, and is the only hospital in the East Bay 100% devoted to pediatrics. Children's Oakland affiliated with UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital on January 1, 2014. Children's Oakland is a national leader in many pediatric specialties including hematology/oncology, neonatology, cardiology, orthopaedics, sports medicine, and neurosurgery. The hospital is one of only two solely designated California Level 1 pediatric trauma centers in the region, and has one of largest pediatric intensive care units in Northern California. Children's Oakland has 190 licensed beds, over 500 physicians in 43 specialties, more than 2,600 employees, and a consolidated annual operating budget of more than $500 million. Children's is also a leading teaching hospital with an outstanding pediatric residency program and a number of unique pediatric subspecialty fellowship programs.

Children's research arm, Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI), is internationally known for its basic and clinical research. CHORI is at the forefront of translating research into interventions for treating and preventing human diseases. CHORI has 250 members of its investigative staff, a budget of about $50 million, and is ranked among the nation's top ten research centers for National Institutes of Health funding to children's hospitals. For more information, go to http://www.childrenshospitaloakland.org and http://www.chori.org