Neural transplantation for Huntington's disease

Transplanted foetal neurons can improve human brain activity in patients with Huntington's disease.

By | November 30, 2000

Three patients with Huntington's disease who received a transplant of human foetal brain cells showed functional, motor and cognitive improvements one year after the operation, according to a preliminary study published on the Lancet's website (available in print on 9 December; Lancet 2000 356:1975-1979).

Huntington's disease is a genetic neurodegenerative disease that affects the area of the brain called the striatum. Dr Marc Peschanski and colleagues from INSERM, Paris, grafted human foetal nerve cells into the right striatum and, after a year, into the left striatum. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) with fluorine-18-labelled fluorodeoxyglucose were performed repeatedly after the operation. These tests showed increased metabolic activity in various subnuclei of the striatum in three out of five patients, suggesting that grafts were functional.

The increased metabolic activity was consistent with an improvement in attention and executive functions, neurophysiological tests and a reduction of bradykinesia and chorea in these three patients.

But a progressive decline in both metabolic activity and brain functions was recorded in the two other patients in the series, as well as in a control group of 22 patients with untreated Huntington's disease.

The authors conclude that cell transplant therapy can be developed into a clinically useful treatment for patients with Huntington's disease, for which there is currently no other treatment. The study was approved by the French National Ethics Committee.

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