It is possible to stimulate the production of new neurons in patients suffering from the Huntington's disease and thus stop its progression, researchers hope.
The Huntington's disease (HD) is an inherited neurodegenerative disorder that destroys neurons in certain parts of the brain and slowly erodes victims' ability to walk, talk and reason. The primary symptom of the disease, uncontrollable movements known as chorea, comes from the death of neurons in the basal ganglia, a brain region that controls cognition and movement. The most common symptom is jerky movements of the arms and legs. The symptoms tend to first appear when people are in their thirties or forties. The progressive motor, cognitive and psychiatric deficits could eventually lead to death. Currently, there is no known cure.
Now scientists at the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) have found that the brains of mice with Huntington's disease retain populations of the precursor and stem cells which can give rise to new neurons.
The potential for stimulating the production of new neurons in Huntington's disease patients thus remained high, according to Dr Tara Walker, the postdoctoral fellow who carried out the work in the laboratory of Professor Perry Bartlett.
"Combined with previous findings which show that environmental enrichment and antidepressant treatment delayed both the onset and progression of Huntington's disease in mice, these findings are encouraging," she says.
The research, published in PLoS ONE
, holds out hope that retained cell populations in the brains of Huntington's disease patients could one day be manipulated to replace degenerating neurons.
"Now we know that the capacity to generate neurons is retained in animals in even advanced stages of Huntington's disease, further research will need to explore what stops this process from occurring," Dr Walker says.
"This may not only allow the restoration of neurogenesis, but may also allow this process to be arnessed to repair other areas of neuronal cell loss."