Aiming to slow Huntington’s disease, Robert M. Friedlander of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston has tested inhibitors of caspases, a family of enzymes that cells produce in their death throes (SN: 5/29/99, p. 351). An old antibiotic may offer an alternative: In mice genetically engineered to develop an illness similar to the neurodegenerative disease, the drug significantly delays the onset of symptoms and death, Friedlander and his colleagues report in the July Nature Medicine.
The investigators found that the antibiotic minocycline does not directly inhibit caspases, but instead it suppresses the activity of genes that encode several of the enzymes. It’s not clear whether that’s solely responsible for the drug’s protective actions, but Friedlander’s group isn’t waiting to resolve that question. The researchers plan to launch initial trials of the antibiotic on people with Huntington’s disease later this year. After all, the team notes, “minocycline has been used in humans for extended periods of time with relatively few side effects.”