Research Finds Clues to Spread of Huntington's, Alzheimer's

Finding also could help combat Parkinson's
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 19, 2023 7:00 PM CDT
Researchers Make Find on How to Stop Spread of Huntington's
Magnetic resonance imaging of the brain   (Getty/Nomadsoul1)

A finding about the progression of Huntington's disease might inform efforts to prevent its spread through the brain—and help the fight against Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, as well. Scientists know that neurodegenerative diseases occur when proteins in the brain fold into an abnormal shape and start to stick together, NPR reports. Next, the bits of abnormal protein cause nearby proteins to misfold and clump, as well. The research, which centered on Huntington's, looked for the genesis. "As the disease progresses you're effectively watching a sort of a forest fire," said Randal Halfmann, an author of the study. "And you're trying to figure out what started it."

Halfmann's team at the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, Mo., did experiments in individual cells. With genetic tweaks, the researchers created hundreds of versions of a protein segment, PolyQ—which turns toxic in Huntington's—and put different ones in a cell. Then they looked for indications the misfolding and clumping was beginning, per NPR. Eventually, they had their answer. "What starts this little forest fire in the brain is a single molecule of PolyQ," Halfmann said. They were able to stop that molecule from spreading, but a drug will be required to do the same thing in humans. The researchers' result "opens the path" to discovering the event that leads to diseases Huntington's, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's, said Corinne Lasmézas, an expert who was not involved in the study. (More Huntington's Disease stories.)

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