(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Emotional disturbances, severe mental deterioration and uncontrollable body movements; these disruptive symptoms and more are characteristics of the incurable Huntington's disease.
Affecting more then 100,000 people, Huntington's disease provides a dim outlook for its patients. Until recently there has been little insight into what causes Huntington's disease. New research from the National University of Ireland Galway has made a breakthrough discovery linked to Huntington's disease.
Researchers were able to identify specific enzymes called HDACs, or histone deacetylase complexes, as positive agents for the mutation that underlies Huntington's disease. When HDACs are active, they intensify the disease-causing mutation in cells, possibly contributing to the severity of the disease. The new research found that blocking these HDACs with experimental drugs significantly reduced the chances of further mutation.
"Ongoing mutations in the brain of Huntington's patients are thought to drive progression of the disease," Professor Robert Lihue of National University of Ireland Galway's Centre for Chromosome Biology, and lead author on the new research paper, was quoted as saying.
"Our discovery suggests that inhibiting HDAC function slows down the mutation process, and thereby could reduce disease progression. A key finding of the research was to pin point specific HDACs for selective inhibition."
Professor Lahue emphasized that the HDAC inhibitors are still experimental, and that their development to possible drugs is still some way off.
"It is very exciting that basic research at National University of Ireland Galway, funded by Science Foundation Ireland, has created a new possibility for helping Huntington's patients and their families."
"Huntington's is a particularly cruel disease, as it is passed from parent to child, often with increased severity or earlier onset," Professor Lahue was quoted as saying.
"With modern genetic testing, people can now establish whether they received the mutant gene from their parent, but then they live a waiting game for the onset of symptoms, which usually appear around the age of 40."
The discoveries may also have implications for research into certain other neurological disorders, such as myotonic dystrophy type I, a type of muscular dystrophy caused by a similar mutation as seen in Huntington's.
SOURCE: PLoS Biology, February 21, 2012