Hunting Down Huntington's Disease

Researchers determine which tests are best able to track progression of Huntington's disease

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Findings from a new study indicate a host of new clinical, functional, and neuroimaging tests are able to track the progression of Huntington's disease (HD) before outward symptoms begin to appear.

The range of tests may yield useful biomarkers (indicators) that could be used to determine the effectiveness of treatments. Sensitive biomakers of the disease's progression need to be established before treatments can be tested in patients with early Huntington's disease, when therapies are most likely to be effective at delaying or preventing onset.

Researchers compared new assessment techniques, including advanced brain imaging and motor testing in hopes of identifying the best measurements to be used in clinical trials. They followed 366 individuals, 120 of whom were pre-symptomatic carriers of the expanded Huntington's disease gene. A total of 123 patients had early Huntington's disease, and 123 had non-expanded Huntington's disease gene carrier controls.

Over a year-long period, brain imaging techniques proved to be the most reliable and consistent measure of detecting disease progression. Atrophy (shrinkage) of the brain increased at a higher, more measurable rate in both pre-Huntington's disease and early Huntington's disease patients compared to a control group.

Huntington's disease is an inherited disorder that destroys neurons in certain areas of the brain, causing patients to gradually lose their ability to walk, talk and reason.

"Unfortunately, there is no cure for Huntington's Disease, but there are symptomatic treatments that can prolong quality of life for these patients" said dailyrx medical editor Dr. Joseph V. Madia.  The first medication approved by the FDA for the specific treatment of Huntington's disease was Xenazine, which helps reduce the severity of the jerky, involuntary movements that are the hallmark of the disease.  Antidepressants such as Zoloft and Prozac are also routinely prescribed, as Huntington's patients are prone to depression as the disease progresses, as well as antipsychotic medications for hallucinations.  Lithium has been prescribed as well for the treatment of mood swings and emotional lability.

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Review Date: 
January 10, 2011
Last Updated:
January 10, 2011