MEDFORD/SOMERVILLE, Mass. -- For years researchers in neurology have believed that people with Huntingtons disease have more children than the general population because of behavioral changes associated with the disease that lead to sexual promiscuity. In a new Tufts University study, three biologists have challenged that notion by suggesting that people with Huntingtons have more children because they are healthier - not more promiscuous - during their peak reproductive years. "A Darwinian Approach to Huntington's Disease: Subtle Health Benefits of a Neurological Disorder" is published in the August 8, 2007 online issue of the journal Medical Hypothesis and will soon appear in print.
Huntingtons is a disease that may have beneficial health effects on people early in life, but dire health costs later when symptoms express themselves, said Philip T. Starks, assistant professor of biology in the School of Arts and Sciences at Tufts. Ironically, these early health benefits may contribute to an increased prevalence of the disease. Huntingtons disease is a genetic disease involving degeneration of the central nervous system (CNS), leading to uncontrolled muscle movements, emotional instability and dementia. Folk musician and songwriter Woody Guthrie died from complications of the disease in 1967.
Link Between Huntington's and Immune System
Along with Dr. Starks, former Tufts undergraduate Benjamin R. Eskenazi and present doctoral student Noah S. Wilson-Rich reviewed 75 published studies in forming their hypothesis. They focused on the tumor suppressor protein p53, which maintains normal cell growth and is found at levels above normal in Huntingtons sufferers. At these elevated levels, p53 appears to increase resistance to cancer by causing cancerous cells to destroy themselves. Previous research has linked increased production of p53 to the mutant form of the Huntington (htt) protein that is found in the CNS of individuals wit
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