Psychiatric symptoms in Huntington’s disease

The Translational Neuroendocrine Research Unit (TNU) at the Department of Experimental Medical Science, Faculty of Medicine at Lund University, is headed by Åsa Petersén. Åsa is professor in neuroscience at Lund University and senior consultant in psychiatry at Region Skåne, the health care organization in the south of Sweden (Psychiatry Research Skåne). She is also the chair of the steering group for Huntington Disease Center and responsible for the clinical HD team in Lund.

The focus for the research group is to study the underlying neurobiological mechanisms of early non-motor symptoms in Huntington’s disease (HD), such as psychiatric symptoms, as well as metabolic changes and sleep disturbances. The hypothesis is that changes in the brain’s hormone center, the hypothalamus, cause these early aspects of the disease.This area of the brain is controlling emotions, motivation, metabolism and sleep. In a number of studies of magnetic resonance images of persons carrying the Huntington gene, post mortem analyses of hypothalamic tissue from diseased HD-patients and by various genetic manipulations of experimental models of the disease, the research group has been able to show that there are significant alterations in hypothalamus in HD.Important findings show an effect on the signalling system producing key neuropeptides, such as orexin (hypocretin), oxytocin and vasopressin. Ongoing studies aim to identify what particular neuronal pathways in hypothalamus are critical in the development of early changes in HD, and how these can be the target for novel therapies for HD.

TNU:s research is financed with funds from, amongst others, Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, the Swedish Research Council, the health care organization Region Skåne and the Brain Foundation (Hjärnfonden).