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Scientists examine immune system link to Huntington's

Scientists examine immune system link to Huntington's
15th July 2008

New findings which show a mutant gene can cause an overactive immune system may be significant in the development of treatments for Huntington's disease (HD), scientists report.

Unusually high levels of molecules called cytokines, which are linked to the body's immune defence, were present in the blood of people who carried the HD gene long before they exhibited any symptoms, according to research published today in the Journal of Experimental Medicine.

The study led by researchers from University College London (UCL) suggests the abnormal immune activation occurring in Huntington's patients is a potential target for future treatments.

Dr Sarah Tabrizi, from the UCL Institute of Neurology and lead-researcher, said: "It looks like we've unearthed a new early pathway by which the HD gene could cause damage, through abnormal overactivity of the immune system."

She added the new pathway is relatively easy to detect in blood and may provide a valuable insight into the activity of the disease in the brain.

Meanwhile, US company Medivation last week said a phase-two clinical study had shown its drug Dimebon significantly improved cognitive function in patients with mild-to-moderate Huntington's disease.

The company said it is firmly committed to the drug's development.

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