Johns Hopkins researchers have identified a natural mechanism that might one day be used to block the expression of the mutated gene known to cause Huntington's disease. Their experiments offer not an immediate cure, but a potential new approach to stopping or even preventing the development of this relentless neurodegenerative disorder.
Huntington's disease is a rare, fatal disorder caused by a mutation in a single gene and marked by progressive brain damage. Symptoms, which typically first appear in midlife, include jerky twitch-like movements, coordination troubles, psychiatric disorders and dementia. Although the gene responsible for Huntington's was identified in 1993, there is no cure, and there are no treatments are available even to slow its progression.
The disorder is caused by a mutation in the huntingtin gene (HTT). The mutation occurs when a section of DNA, which normally varies in length from one person to another, is too long. The result is the production of an abnormal and toxic version of the huntingtin protein. The mutation has a second unfortunate effect, the Johns Hopkins researchers discovered it reduces a natural braking mechanism that might otherwise keep the amount of toxic huntingtin protein in check and keep the disease from developing.
"The idea of being able to harness the powers of this natural mechanism for the benefit of Huntington's patients is a totally new way of thinking about therapy for the disease," says Russell L. Margolis, M.D., a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and leader of the team publishing results of the study online in the journal Human Molecular Genetics.
Currently, a leading strategy among Huntington's disease researchers is to try to suppress the expression of the mutant gene by introducing fragments of DNA meant to bind with and sabotage the ability of the gene to make the damaging protein. The go
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Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions