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Huntington’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder characterized by uncontrolled movements, speech problems, personality changes, and dementia. The disease is caused by a single genetic mutation, called a CAG repeat, that drives abnormal protein folding and aggregation of the huntingtin protein and subsequent death of striatal neurons. Findings from a 2010 study demonstrate that modulating pathways involved in BDNF-mediated signaling shows promise as a therapeutic against Huntington’s disease.

Evidence suggests that normal huntingtin promotes the expression of BDNF, but mutated huntingtin impairs it. Striatal neurons need BDNF for their normal function and survival. A critical component in BDNF’s actions on striatal cells is a receptor called TrkB, to which BDNF binds. Levels of TrkB are diminished in Huntington’s disease.

The authors of the in vitro cell study investigated the effects of BDNF administration on mutant huntingtin. They found that altered cell-signaling in the Ras/MAPK/ERK1/2 pathway in cells expressing mutant huntingtin drove the loss of TrkB receptors, increased striatal cells' sensitivity to oxidative damage, and promoted cell death. These findings suggest that identifying ways to modulate the Ras/MAPK/ERK1/2 pathway and restore BDNF-related signaling shows promise as a therapeutic strategy against Huntington’s disease.

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