The authors of a new study into the behavioral effects of LSD have suggested that the drug may provide the key to developing new therapies for autism (ASD) and social anxiety. This assertion is based on the finding that LSD boosts social behavior in mice and that this effect is mediated by a protein complex that is often associated with ASD.
Publishing their work in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers reveal that a single low dose of LSD had no effect on the rodents’ sociability, but that the animals became increasingly convivial towards unfamiliar mice after receiving the drug every day for a week. It is well known that LSD and other psychedelics produce their effects by interacting with serotonin receptors in the prefrontal cortex, and the study authors were, therefore, unsurprised to find that blocking these receptors nullified this increase in social behavior.
A similar effect was seen when the study authors blocked a second type of receptor, known as AMPA, in the animals’ prefrontal cortex, indicating that the social enhancement produced by LSD relies on both of these key receptor types.
Intriguingly, a number of psychedelic drugs have previously been shown to increase the activation of a protein complex called mTORC1, which regulates the sensitivity of serotonin and AMPA receptors. This compound is of particular interest as several studies have shown that dysregulation of mTORC1 causes alterations in brain activity that are linked to ASD and a range of social anxiety disorders.
Using molecular analytics tools, the study authors verified that the regular administration of LSD produced an increase in mTORC1 activation in the rodents’ prefrontal cortices, suggesting a role for this important compound in regulating the social effects of psychedelics.
To investigate further, the researchers repeated their experiment using mice that had been genetically modified to lack a key ingredient of the mTORC1 protein complex and found that this eliminated the ability of LSD to enhance social behavior. This finding indicates that mTORC1 is a vital mediator of the behavioral effects of LSD, and that its role in tweaking the activity of serotonin and AMPA receptors may help to explain certain neurological disorders.
Based on this outcome, the study authors state that the interaction between mTORC1, serotonin receptors and AMPA receptors represents a promising avenue of research and that the effects of LSD and other psychedelics “should be explored for the treatment of mental diseases with [social behavior] impairments such as autism spectrum disorder and social anxiety disorder.”