A multiple sclerosis drug that works for Huntington’s disease: the real deal or too good to be true?

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A multiple sclerosis drug that works for Huntington’s disease: the real deal or too good to be true?

A medication already approved for use in Huntington’s disease could also help those with multiple sclerosis. Research is currently in the animal stage, but it looks promising.

Thinking problems in Huntington’s disease take a huge toll from early in the disease. Now, new work suggests that a drug already approved by the FDA to treat another brain disease –multiple sclerosis – may stave off these problems in HD mice. Could these results be real, or are they too good to be true?

Although movement disturbances are the most obvious symptom of Huntington’s disease, Huntington’s also causes cognitive problems – like changes in memory, planning, decision-making, and communication – that take a huge toll on patients and their families early in the disease. Understanding why these cognitive changes arise and how we might prevent them is really important for treating Huntington’s.

The brain’s game of ‘telephone’

In Huntington’s disease, thinking or ‘cognitive’ problems typically arise long before brain cells die. If these problems begin before brain cell death, though, what causes them?

One likely culprit is a change in how well brain cells communicate.

To understand this idea, remember that the brain is made up of a huge network of cells (called neurons) that talk to each other by passing messages back and forth. You can think of brain communication like a giant game of ‘telephone’: one neuron (brain cell) passes a message to another, which passes it to a third, and so on down the line. Because the brain has about 86 billion neurons, however, this game is huge beyond the scale of what you probably played as a kid.

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