High urea levels linked with Huntington’s disease

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By Philip Tubby | Monday 11 December 2017

Scientists from New Zealand and the University of Manchester discovered a potential link between increased levels of brain urea and Huntington’s disease. Working primarily in sheep and then comparing data with human brain samples, they found increased levels of urea in brains of Huntington’s cases. Their findings are published today Monday 11 December in the scientific journal PNAS.

Huntington’s disease is a severe degenerative disorder caused by a mutation in a single gene in the brain known as the huntingtin gene, with symptoms of the disease including dementia and involuntary muscle movement. Exactly how the mutation leads to brain cell death predominantly in a specific area of the brain, the striatum, is still unknown and this research investigates this further.

Dr Sara Imarisio, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK said:

“This study found increased levels of urea in the brains of sheep with features of early Huntington’s disease and in brain tissue from people who died with the disease. The research suggests that elevated levels of urea in the brain may be an early feature of Huntington’s disease, but it did not explore what might lead to elevated urea or whether urea contributes to damage to nerve cells in the disease. The researchers suggest that lowering levels of urea could represent a potential avenue for future treatments for Huntington’s disease and this will need to be investigated further.

“Previous studies have linked increased levels of urea and the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, but this study did not investigate this association and specifically focused on Huntington’s disease.

“While findings from research involving animals can’t always be applied to people, this well conducted study followed up findings from sheep with examination of human brain tissue.

 “To have the best chance of tackling diseases like Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s, researchers need to approach these diseases from many different angles. This is only possible if we continue to invest in dementia research.”

About the author

Philip Tubby