Scientists who have been working to try to find a cure for Huntington's disease were positively surprised by the results they found on animal models, which suggests a different approach could now be adopted.
It turned out that stopping a certain type of glutamate receptors - known as extrasynaptic NMDA receptors - were able to enhance motor learning and coordination. In addition, cells were stopped from dying when this took place.
This breakthrough is of particular importance because Huntington's disease can be discovered many years before any symptoms start to surface. As a consequence, any attempts to bolster understanding of how the brain cells function could be instrumental in developing treatment methods that slow down the damage.
Researchers from the University of British Columbia have been working on Huntington's disease for more than ten years and Dr Lynn Raymond presented such findings at 2014 Canadian Neuroscience Meeting in Montreal.
"Markers are being developed to facilitate assessment of interventional therapy in individuals carrying the genetic mutation for Huntington's disease, before they become ill. This will make it possible to delay onset of disease," Dr Raymond said.
By using a drug that stopped extra-synaptic NDMA receptors promptly, a mouse model of the disease showed a delayed onset of symptoms. It is hoped this will result in new treatment methods for those with Huntington's and will help to slow down how quickly the negative ramifications adversely affect patients.
"Our results suggest that clinical studies of memantine and similarly-acting drugs in Huntington's disease - particularly in the pre-symptomatic stage - are warranted," Dr Raymond added.
It also transpired this discovery could have beneficial effects for those with Alzheimer's, traumatic brain injury and other neurodegenerative disorders, as it is a new method of helping to protect neurons from degeneration.
Huntington's is a hereditary disorder of the central nervous system and tends to develop in adulthood, with a wide range of symptoms such as stumbling and a lack of concentration.
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