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Drug May Ease Cognitive Effects of Huntington's

Small study reports improvement in thinking skills,,

TUESDAY, Feb. 9 (HealthDay News) -- An experimental drug may improve thinking, learning and memory skills in people with Huntington's disease, an inherited neurodegenerative disorder, new research says.

Huntington's affects movement, behavior and cognitive abilities, and people with the disease usually die within 10 to 30 years of its onset. Cognitive problems begin early in the disease and increase as Huntington's progresses, leading to the inability to work or perform normal daily activities.

Currently, the only approved therapy for Huntington's is tetrabenazine, which treats movement problems but does not prevent cognitive decline or change the course of the disease.

In the new study, researchers assessed the safety and tolerability of a new drug with the proposed generic name latrepirdine, in people with mild to moderate Huntington's disease. The drug stabilizes and improves the function of mitochondria, parts of cells that help convert food into energy. Previous research has suggested that mitochondria abnormalities could play a role in Huntington's.

For 90 days, 46 people took 20 milligrams of latrepirdine three times a day, and 45 others took a placebo. The researchers said the drug was well-tolerated (87 percent of people taking latrepirdine completed the study, compared with 82 percent of the others), and the rates of adverse events were 70 percent in the treatment group, 80 percent in the placebo group.

The researchers also found that average scores on scales rating overall cognitive function improved in the treatment group and remained the same in the placebo group.

"Taken together, our data suggest that latrepirdine, at a dosage of 20 milligrams three times daily, is well-tolerated for 90 days in patients with Huntington's disease and may have a beneficial effect on cognition," wrote Dr. Karl Kieburtz, of the School of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Rochester in New York, and his colleagues.

"Future studies of latrepirdine are planned to further evaluate the effect of latrepirdine on the cognitive and behavioral symptoms of Huntington's disease," they added.

The study is published in the February issue of Archives of Neurology.

More information

We Move has more about Huntington's disease.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: JAMA/Archives journals, news release, Feb. 8, 2010

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