Date Published: 7 November 2006

Moods correlate with changes in the human brain in Huntington's disease

Health News from New Zealand

Research at the University of Auckland has shown that the variation in symptoms in Huntington’s cases is related to areas of the brain affected by the disease.

Patients with Huntington’s Disease show a variable pattern of symptoms involving movement and mood changes. A study published in the prestigious neuroscience journal Brain compared changes in the brain to changes in mood seen in Huntington’s patients.

The study looked at receptors for the neurotransmitter GABA, a chemical that transmits electrical signals in the central nervous system. The research focused on the basal ganglia, an area of the brain typically affected by Huntington’s Disease. Changes in the GABA receptors were compared with families’ accounts of Huntington’s symptoms observed. The results showed that mood dysfunction was significantly higher when the levels of receptors in specific areas of the brain were affected by the disease.

This unique study used tissue from brains donated by 35 Huntington’s families to the Neurological Foundation’s Human Brain Bank established in the University’s Department of Anatomy. Families were interviewed to obtain a comprehensive picture of the symptoms observed at two stages of the disease, clinical onset and in the period prior to death. These observations, reflecting motor and mood impairment, were scored on a severity scale.

This study looks at the changes in the brain to see how they correlate with the symptoms that Huntington patients showed during life,”
said Professor Richard Faull, one of the lead researchers on the study

This is the first study of its type in the world and would not have been possible without the generosity and the very special support of the Huntington’s families. The results provide a major new development in our scientific understanding of Huntington’s disease and give us greater understanding of the brain and neurological disease.


It is another example of the world-class research that New Zealand neuroscientists are doing,”
said Max Ritchie, executive director of the Neurological Foundation.

The Human Brain Bank is an enormous asset but it is the vision and hard work of Professor Faull and his team that has made these advances in our understanding of Huntington’s disease possible.

The study was conducted by a team of researchers at the University’s Department of Anatomy and Radiology and the Department of Psychology, with colleagues at Auckland City Hospital and the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


Source: Auckland University (New Zealand).

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