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Emerging Pharmacotherapies for Neurodevelopmental Disorders

Wetmore, Daniel Z. PhD; Garner, Craig C. PhD

Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics: September 2010 - Volume 31 - Issue 7 - p 564-581
doi: 10.1097/DBP.0b013e3181ee3833
Review Article

A growing and interdisciplinary translational neuroscience research effort for neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs) is investigating the mechanisms of dysfunction and testing effective treatment strategies in animal models and, when possible, in the clinic. NDDs with a genetic basis have received particular attention. Transgenic animals that mimic genetic insults responsible for disease in man have provided insight about mechanisms of dysfunction, and, surprisingly, have shown that cognitive deficits can be addressed in adult animals. This review will present recent translational research based on animal models of genetic NDDs, as well as pharmacotherapeutic strategies under development to address deficits of brain function for Down syndrome, fragile X syndrome, Rett syndrome, neurofibromatosis-1, tuberous sclerosis, and autism. Although these disorders vary in underlying causes and clinical presentation, common pathways and mechanisms for dysfunction have been observed. These include abnormal gene dosage, imbalance among neurotransmitter systems, and deficits in the development, maintenance and plasticity of neuronal circuits. NDDs affect multiple brain systems and behaviors that may be amenable to drug therapies that target distinct deficits. A primary goal of translational research is to replace symptomatic and supportive drug therapies with pharmacotherapies based on a principled understanding of the causes of dysfunction. Based on this principle, several recently developed therapeutic strategies offer clear promise for clinical development in man.

From the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Nancy Pritzker Laboratory, Stanford University, Stanford, CA.

Received February 2010; accepted May 2010.

This study was supported by a Neuro-innovation and Translational Neurosciences fellowship from Stanford University (to D.Z.W.). Work in the Garner laboratory on neurodevelopmental disorders is supported by the Coulter, Fidelity, and Down Syndrome Research and Treatment foundations and NIH grant NS353862 (to C.C.G.).

Address for reprints: Craig C. Garner, PhD, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Nancy Pritzker Laboratory, Stanford University, 1201 Welch Road, Stanford, CA 94305-5485; e-mail:

© 2010 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.