Treatment of Social and Language Deficits With Leucovorin for Young Children With Autism

  • End date
    Dec 19, 2022
  • participants needed
  • sponsor
    Phoenix Children's Hospital
Updated on 19 March 2021


The primary objective of this study is to evaluate the cognitive and behavioral effects of liquid leucovorin calcium on young children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and determine whether it improves social communication as well as the core and associated symptoms of ASD. The investigators will enroll 80 children across two sites, between the ages of 2.5 and 5 years, with confirmed ASD and known social and communication delays. Participation will last approximately 26 weeks, from screening visit to end of treatment.


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a heterogeneous neurodevelopmental disorder with life-long consequences that affects young children during critical times in their development. ASD is defined by impairments in social-communication as well as the presence of restricted interests and repetitive behaviors. ASD is frequently associated with co-occurring language delays. Currently the only well-accepted treatment for core ASD symptoms is behavior therapy such as Applied Behavioral Analysis and Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention. There is no US Food and Drug Administration approved medical therapy that addresses core ASD symptoms or the pathophysiological processes that underlie ASD.

The primary aim of this study is to evaluate the effect of a liquid form of leucovorin calcium on social and communication impairments in very young children with ASD. Participants entered into the trial will have delayed language and moderate ASD symptoms. The investigators hypothesize that leucovorin calcium will significantly improve social communication as well as core and associated behavioral symptoms of ASD, and be well-tolerated with no significant adverse effects, in young children with ASD.

To assess whether the liquid form of leucovorin calcium is superior to placebo, the investigators will study 80 children across two sites, between the ages of 2.5 and 5 years, with confirmed ASD and known social and communication delays at baseline. Participants will be randomly assigned to receive active treatment or placebo for 12 weeks under double-blind conditions. At the end of 12 weeks, all participants will receive active treatment for 12 weeks. Language skills and social communication abilities will be measured at screening and after each treatment arm in order to determine if the supplement positively influences social communication. Additionally, the investigators will measure changes in neural pathways using either magnetoencephalography at Phoenix Children's Hospital or functional Near Infrared Spectroscopy at State University of New York, Downstate. While these measures will be considered exploratory, they will be important to begin to elucidate the neuronal mechanisms underlying leucovorin's impact.

Condition Pervasive developmental disorder, Communication Disorder, Communication Disorders, Language Disorders, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Communication Disorders, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), autism spectrum disorders, language disorder, language impairment
Treatment Placebo, Levoleucovorin Calcium
Clinical Study IdentifierNCT04060030
SponsorPhoenix Children's Hospital
Last Modified on19 March 2021


Yes No Not Sure

Inclusion Criteria

1\. Autism Spectrum Disorder (diagnosed as Autistic Disorder on the ADOS-2 or the ADI-R)
Between 2 years 6 months and 5 years 2 months of age at baseline
Folate Receptor Alpha Autoantibody Positive status
Language impairment (Ages and Stage Questionnaire between -1 and -3 SD for Language and MSEL Expressive Language <=40)
English included in the languages in which the child is being raised
Autism severity of moderate or higher (4) under the 7-item clinical global impression-severity scale. Moderate level of autism severity (4) is defined by the diagnosis of ASD with language impairment, so fulfilling #1 and #4 fulfills this requirement
Ability to maintain all ongoing complementary, dietary, traditional, and behavioral treatments constant for the study period
Unchanged complementary, dietary, traditional, and behavioral treatments for two months prior to study entry
A minimum of 10 hours of behavioral (ABA type) therapy per week
Ability to attend to social stimulus and tolerate imaging procedures, as determined at the discretion of the investigator

Exclusion Criteria

Known FRAA status by clinically validated test performed outside of research studies
Mineral or vitamin supplementation that exceeds the Tolerable Upper Daily Intake Levels set by the Institute of Medicine (See Table 6 below)
Significant self-abusive or violent behavior or evidence of suicidal ideation, plan or behavior
Severely affected children as defined by CGI-Severity Standard Score = 7 (Extremely Ill)
Severe prematurity (<34 weeks gestation) as determined by medical history
Current uncontrolled gastroesophageal reflux
Current or history of liver or kidney disease as determined by medical history and safety labs
Genetic syndromes
Congenital brain malformations
Any medical condition that the PI determines could jeopardize the safety of the study subject or compromise the integrity of the data
Significant negative reaction (i.e. fainting, vomiting, etc.) as a result of a previous blood draw
Failure to thrive or Body Mass Index < 5%ile or <5%ile for weight (male <11.2kg; female <10.8kg by CDC 2000 growth charts) at the time of the study
Concurrent treatment with drug that would significantly interact with l-leucovorin such as specific chemotherapy agents, antimalarial and immune suppressive agents and select antibiotics (See Table 7 below)
Allergy or Sensitivity to ingredients in the investigational product or placebo
Evaluation with the MSEL or BOSCC within 3 months of entering the study
Planned evaluation with the MSEL or BOSCC during the study
Exclusion Criteria for the MEG recording include
Ferromagnetic implants, artificial joints, fixation hardware, dental work or shrapnel (additional screening will be completed to determine MRI eligibility)
Ferromagnetic products attached to the body (including hair extensions)
Head circumference greater than 60 cm
A weight greater than 407 lbs. (185 kg)
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