Multiple Sclerosis, Autism and Acoustic Neuromas - Connection?
March 2, 2011 9:13 AM   Subscribe

I married into a family with the following medical history: the mother was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in her 50s, her daughter was diagnosed with an vestibular schwannoma in her 40s, and her grandson from another daughter was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome and epilepsy when he was 7. These are seemingly separate issues except that while educating myself on them I kept bumping into connections with the myelin sheath. Turns out that each of these conditions are, or thought to be linked to this same group of cells which cover nerves. I casually mentioned this to a neurologist and was quickly dismissed as crazy, but isn't it possible if not likely that there's an as-yet undiscovered genetic link connecting all of these conditions? Has anyone ever studied such a connection?
posted by Jamesonian to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Where are you getting the link between Aspergers and myelin sheathing? It's not something that I'd ever heard, and I've heard a lot of theorising about causes of ASD.

I've also not heard of any connection between myelin and epilepsy, though I know less about that than ASDs.

As for the Schwannoma and the MS - they are opposite processes on the myelin sheath, one destructive and the other over-productive. You'd have to posit a mechanism that could in one person destroy and in another over-produce, from the same genetic predisposition.
posted by Coobeastie at 9:34 AM on March 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't be so quick to rule out environmental factors that could contribute to problems with the myelin sheath, particularly within a single family that would likely have been exposed to the same chemicals, pollutants, etc. for a long time. But I'm just wildly speculating, as you are, too.
posted by The World Famous at 9:36 AM on March 2, 2011

There are a number of psychological and neuropsychological studies that suggest that autistics may have differences in brain structure, particularly white matter (i.e. myelinated axons), which leads to decreased connectivity between regions of the brain.

Cortical activation and synchronization during sentence comprehension in high-functioning autism: evidence of underconnectivity
Similar White Matter Aberrations in Children With Autism and Their Unaffected Siblings

If there are environmental factors at play, they would need to take effect at an early age - autism is often diagnosed around the age of two or three.

I know nothing of the other conditions or connections with them; the autism research is very much research at this point.
posted by asphericalcow at 11:14 AM on March 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, those are all really different. MS is CNS, versus VS which is PNS (oligodendrocytes vs. schwann cells) - and they are really not similar pathologies at all. Epilepsy can be associated with a great many things, e.g. mesial temporal sclerosis, gray matter heterotopia, etc. I definitely wouldn't say that Epilepsy is a white matter disorder. As for Asperger Syndrome, some differences between affected individuals and controls have been shown in some studies, but nobody can really say for sure that it is primarily a white matter pathology.

So, short answer: no, nobody is trying to find a common link between these.
posted by sero_venientibus_ossa at 11:23 AM on March 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't be so hasty, nor as confidently dismissive as posters up thread. I am not famililar with vestibular schwannoma, but MS and Asperger's syndromes are hardly sewn up tight in the bag in terms of medical understanding. Further, research is continuing to demonstrate increasing links among seemingly discrete disorders. One such cluster that is emerging is the cluster of autoimmune disorders. Is it possible that this family has a genetic disposition to autoimmune disorders that are manifesting in these diagnoses? Possible? Maybe. Scientifically demonstratable or deniable? Not at this time. Are scientists researching into these connections? Generally? Yes. Among those specific conditions? I don't know. Medical science is far more limited in its understandings of complex disorders than is typically acknowledged.
posted by kch at 1:41 PM on March 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

I agree with kch above. There is still too much unknown or underappreciated to completely dismiss any possible association whatsoever. In addition to the issues already mentioned, I'd throw in differences in maternal vs paternal inheritance of the same mutation, and changes in genomic/environmental background as reasons why similar genotypes might present with different phenotypes, esp for genes that are involved more subtle pathways rather than being directly disease causing. And trying to tease out this data will take years, esp for disorders that are multisystemic with variable diagnostic criteria.

and Prader Willi would be classic examples of disorders which were thought entirely unrelated but now are known to be related to imprinting-which parent passed on the mutation- at least in some cases.
posted by beaning at 6:18 PM on March 2, 2011

"Where are you getting the link between Aspergers and myelin sheathing? It's not something that I'd ever heard, and I've heard a lot of theorising about causes of ASD. "

If you Goggle Aspergers and myelin you'll get more than 333,000 hits. The quote below is from

Up to eighty percent (and possibly all) cases of Aspergers/autism are caused by an abnormal immune reaction, commonly known as autoimmunity. The autoimmune process in autism results from a complex interaction between the immune system and the nervous system. The autoimmune reaction to the brain structures, especially the myelin sheath, has a critical role in causing the neurological impairments that are characteristic of autism. After exposure to infection (either from natural sources or from vaccination) the myelin sheath develops 'nicks' or small changes that ultimately lead to disturbance of higher mental functions such as learning, memory, communication, social interaction etc.
posted by Jamesonian at 8:11 PM on March 2, 2011

Jamesonian: that vaccine reference is a huge red flag. There is no evidence whatsoever to link autism to vaccines, and there is a huge body of research on the subject. The fact that the author is positing that as a trigger for autism (via myelin sheathing) leads me distrust their other statements on it.
posted by Coobeastie at 9:05 AM on March 3, 2011

There is no evidence whatsoever to link autism to vaccines, and there is a huge body of research on the subject.

fwiw: I disagree strongly with this. Once again, the evidence is not nearly as straight forward as suggested. And yes, I have critically reviewed the huge body of research referred to
posted by kch at 12:36 PM on March 5, 2011

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