Scientists Make Progress Against Huntington’s Disease

Friday, 24 May 2013 03:42 PM

By Nick Tate

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Researchers from Lund University are reporting a promising new advance in Huntington’s disease research. Scientists have succeeded in preventing very early symptoms of the disease — depression and anxiety — by deactivating the defective protein associated with Huntington’s (called "huntingtin") in the brains of mice.
 
Researchers said they believe the same mechanism is linked to the disease in human patients and, consequently, the discovery could open the door to a potential new way to prevent Huntington’s disease.

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"We are the first to show that it is possible to prevent the depression symptoms of Huntington's disease by deactivating the diseased protein in nerve cell populations in the hypothalamus in the brain," said Åsa Petersén, associate professor of neuroscience at Lund University.  "This is hugely exciting and bears out our previous hypotheses."
 
Huntington's is a debilitating neurodegenerative brain disease for which there is no cure or sufficient treatment. The shaking many patients experience has been the primary focus for researchers, but the emotional problems the disease causes have received less attention. Researchers now believe those issues are tied to a different part of the brain — the small emotional center called the hypothalamus.
 
"Now that we have been able to show in animal experiments that depression and anxiety occur very early in Huntington's disease," said Petersén. "We want to identify more specifically which nerve cells in the hypothalamus are critical in the development of these symptoms. In the long run, this gives us better opportunities to develop more accurate treatments that can attack the mutated huntingtin where it does the most damage."
 
Petersén said the new research could open the door to a greater understanding of the role of the hypothalamus in Huntington's disease. That knowledge that could pave the way for new drug treatments and other therapies that target the biological factors that lead to its development.

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