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Old drug shows new promise for Huntington's Disease

Clioquinol, an antibiotic that was banned for internal use in the United States in 1971 but is still used in topical applications, appears to block the genetic action of Huntington's disease in mice and in cell culture, according to a study reported by San Francisco VA Medical Center (SFVAMC) researchers.

The study, led by principal investigator Stephen M. Massa, MD, PhD, a neurologist at SFVAMC, was reported in the August 16, 2005 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Huntington's disease is a hereditary, degenerative, and ultimately fatal disease of the brain that causes changes in personality, progressive loss of memory and cognitive ability, and a characteristic uncontrolled jerking motion known as Huntington's chorea. There is no known cure or effective treatment. A person who carries the mutant Huntington's gene may pass it on unknowingly because the disease often manifests in early to late middle age after the carrier's children have already been born.

During the course of the disease, the Huntington's gene causes the production of a toxic protein, mutant huntingtin, in neurons (brain cells). Eventually the protein kills the neurons, causing the disease's degenerative effects.

In Massa's study, Clioquinol appeared to interrupt the production of mutant huntingtin. In the first part of his study, Massa and his research team tested the effect of Clioquinol on neurons in cell culture that contained a form of the mutant Huntington's gene. "We found that not only did cells look better and survive a bit longer when exposed to the drug, but they also seemed to make less of the toxic protein," observed Massa, who is also a clinical assistant professor of neurology at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).

Based on the in vitro results, Massa decided to test the drug in vivo, on mice bred to express the toxic huntingtin protein. The mice were given approximately 1 milligram of Clioquinol per d
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Contact: Steve Tokar
steve.tokar@ncire.org
415-221-4810 x5202
University of California - San Francisco
11-Sep-2005


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