Huntington’s disease research news. In plain language. Written by scientists. For the global HD community.
Here's our roundup of all the science presented at the 2016 European Huntington's Disease Network biennial meeting - one of the biggest meetings of Huntingtons Disease families, scientists and care professionals.
A relatively new technology called exome sequencing has identified a few families with novel mutations in their HD genes. These are different than the mutation that causes HD, but allow researchers to better understand the normal role of the HD gene.
A scientific paper declares positive results for a trial of deutetrabenazine in Huntington's disease, but the headlines report the FDA has rejected the drug. Confusing stuff! The reality is positive overall for this new way of treating uncontrollable movements in HD, but patience will be needed to see where it all ends up.
A new piece of research has implicated a type of brain cells called glia in the development of HD symptoms. Regular mice injected with glial cells carrying the mutant huntingtin gene in the study developed symptoms associated with HD. Interestingly, this influence appears to work both ways — a mild reduction in disease symptoms was seen when HD mice were treated with normal glial cells.
Everyone with Huntington's disease has inherited the same type of mutation from their mother or father, an extra-long repetitive stretch of the sequence C-A-G in their HD gene. But the length of the mutation varies between individuals, and longer repeats are associated with earlier onset of symptoms. A huge new international study reveals that slightly longer-than-normal CAG stretches are much more common than we thought. Surprisingly, this turns out to be good news.
When the ‘healthy’ HD gene functions as it should, one of its many jobs is in the development of normal embryos. Researchers have long assumed that the ‘mutant’ HD gene inherited by people with HD is still able to do this job, since HD patients develop normally and don’t show signs until later in life. A surprising new finding suggests we may have to think carefully about this assumption!
Figuring out the shape of a protein can help scientists understand how it works and what goes wrong in disease. Huntingtin, the protein that causes Huntington's disease, has been an elusive target. A recent study using electron microscopes offers a striking glimpse of huntingtin, paving the way for future work.
Nearly a thousand HD family members converged on Baltimore, Maryland for the 2016 Huntington’s Disease Society of America’s Annual Convention. We normally don’t write reports from patient and family conferences, but there was something special about the atmosphere of this year’s Convention that compelled us to pen a brief update.
Clumps of mutant huntingtin protein in brain cells are a hallmark of HD, and they build up slowly, occupying more and more cells over time. Recent research in mice shows that the harmful proteins can travel between neurons, setting off a chain reaction that leads to more sick cells and the development of symptoms.