With a single drug treatment, researchers at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine can silence the mutated gene responsible for Huntington's disease, slowing and partially reversing progression of the fatal neurodegenerative disorder in animal models.
The findings are published in the June 21, 2012 online issue of the journal Neuron.
Researchers suggest the drug therapy, tested in mouse and non-human primate models, could produce sustained motor and neurological benefits in human adults with moderate and severe forms of the disorder. Currently, there is no effective treatment.
Huntington's disease afflicts approximately 30,000 Americans, whose symptoms include uncontrolled movements and progressive cognitive and psychiatric problems. The disease is caused by the mutation of a single gene, which results in the production and accumulation of toxic proteins throughout the brain.
Don W. Cleveland, PhD, professor and chair of the UC San Diego Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine and head of the Laboratory of Cell Biology at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, and colleagues infused mouse and primate models of Huntington's disease with one-time injections of an identified DNA drug based on antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs). These ASOs selectively bind to and destroy the mutant gene's molecular instructions for making the toxic huntingtin protein.
The singular treatment produced rapid results. Treated animals began moving better within one month and achieved normal motor function within two. More remarkably, the benefits persisted, lasting nine months, well after the drug had disappeared and production of the toxic proteins had resumed.