Oxytocin in Huntington’s disease

Dr. Rachel Cheong defended her doctoral thesis at the University of Otago, New Zealand, in December 2012, and since then she is a post-doctoral researcher in Professor Petersén’s research group.She describes her field of research in the following way:

Psychiatric symptoms like depression, anxiety and difficulties in social interactions are frequent in Huntington’s disease (HD), and are often manifest prior to the motor symptoms. Oxytocin, a hormone in the brain, is important for regulating emotions and for social interaction.

Our hypothesis is that the effect on the oxytocin system leads to the neuropsychiatric symptoms in HD, and this can be used as a therapeutic target for treatment of the symptoms, and maybe even for the progression of the disease. We use experimental models both to switch off the disease causing substance huntingtin specifically in oxytocin-neural cells, as well as to steer the production of huntingtin to these cells only, so that we can study the effects in behaviour. Additionally, we investigate how the oxytocin system is affected in HD-patients.

Rachel’s research project is funded by the Swedish Society for Medical Research, Hjärnfonden (the Brain Foundation), The Royal Physiographic Society in Lund, Neuroförbundet, Anna-Lisa Rosenberg’s Foundation, Fredrik and Ingrid Thuring’s Foundation and the Åhlén Foundation.