Diet fix eases Huntington’s symptoms in mice

Dietary supplement improves health of rodents with mutation that causes neurodegeneration

Huntington’s disease robs a person of a healthy mind and body. A simple dietary fix may guard against the theft, which currently can’t be stopped or slowed with treatments, a study suggests. Mice carrying a mutation similar to that in people with Huntington’s disease showed improvements after eating a diet rich in cysteine, a simple amino acid commercially available as a dietary supplement, scientists report March 26 in Nature.

The mice with the mutation had reduced levels of an enzyme that makes cysteine in key parts of their brains, neuroscientist Solomon Snyder of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and colleagues found. These mice also had movement and brain problems, as do people with Huntington’s disease. But a cysteine-rich diet improved these symptoms. With a cysteine boost, the mice were better able to balance, had a stronger grip, had heftier brains and even lived longer.

Despite the improvements, the mice still weren’t as healthy as mice that didn’t carry the Huntington’s disease mutation. And it’s unclear whether the results will hold up in people.  

Laura Sanders is the neuroscience writer. She holds a Ph.D. in molecular biology from the University of Southern California.

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