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Hypothalamic–endocrine aspects in Huntington's disease

Authors

  • Åsa Petersén,

    1. Neuronal Survival Unit, Department of Experimental Medical Science, Wallenberg Neuroscience Center, BMC A10, 221 84 Lund, Sweden
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  • Maria Björkqvist

    1. Neuronal Survival Unit, Department of Experimental Medical Science, Wallenberg Neuroscience Center, BMC A10, 221 84 Lund, Sweden
    2. Unit of Molecular Metabolism, Division of Diabetes, Metabolism, and Endocrinology, Department of Experimental Medical Science, BMC C11, 221 84 Lund, Sweden
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Dr Å. Petersén, as above.
E-mail: asa.petersen@med.lu.se

Abstract

Huntington's disease (HD) is a hereditary and fatal disorder caused by an expanded CAG triplet repeat in the HD gene, resulting in a mutant form of the protein huntingtin. Wild-type and mutant huntingtin are expressed in most tissues of the body but the normal function of huntingtin is not fully known. In HD, the neuropathology is characterized by intranuclear and cytoplasmic inclusions of huntingtin aggregates, and cell death primarily in striatum and cerebral cortex. However, hypothalamic atrophy occurs at early stages of HD with loss of orexin- and somatostatin-containing cell populations. Several symptoms of HD such as sleep disturbances, alterations in circadian rhythm, and weight loss may be due to hypothalamic dysfunction. Endocrine changes including increased cortisol levels, reduced testosterone levels and increased prevalence of diabetes are found in HD patients. In HD mice, alterations in the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis occurs as well as pancreatic β-cell and adipocyte dysfunction. Increasing evidence points towards important pathology of the hypothalamus and the endocrine system in HD. As many neuroendocrine factors are secreted into the cerebrospinal fluid, blood and urine, it is possible that their levels may reflect the disease state in the central nervous system. Investigating neuroendocrine changes in HD opens up the possibility of finding biomarkers to evaluate future therapies for HD, as well as of identifying novel targets for therapeutic interventions.

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