Public Release: 

Bile acid inhibits cell death in Huntington's disease

University of Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (July 24, 2002)--University of Minnesota researchers have found that a nontoxic bile acid produced in the body prevents apoptosis, or programmed cell death, in mice with Huntington's disease. This finding, to be published July 29 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA (PNAS), may eventually lead to a treatment for Huntington's disease (HD) in humans. HD is an untreatable neurological disorder caused by selective and progressive degeneration of neural cells.

In the study, led by Walter Low, Ph.D., professor of neurosurgery in the university's Medical School, a dose of tauroursodeoxycholic acid (TUDCA) was administered subcutaneously once every third day for six weeks in mice with the HD gene. Researchers found TUDCA was able to cross the blood / brain barrier, something many molecules are unable to do, resulting in decreased apoptosis in the section of the brain affected by HD and improving the neurological cell function in the mice.

"We're extremely encouraged by the neuroprotective function of TUDCA in Huntington's disease and will be examining its potential in future studies," said Low.

The bile acid's anti-apoptotic qualities were originally discovered in the laboratory of Clifford Steer, M.D., co-author of the article and director of the university's molecular gastroenterology program.

"We determined that this bile acid was unique in its ability to maintain the integrity of mitochondria, which is so important for normal cell function," said Steer. "By so doing, the TUDCA was able to significantly reduce brain cell death in a variety of conditions, including acute stroke, in rats. We were interested to see if this would be the case in Huntington's disease as well. What's exciting about TUDCA, in addition to its remarkable anti-apoptotic quality, is that it's made in our own bodies and causes virtually no side effects when given as a drug. TUDCA may even have potential for treating other chronic neurodegenerative conditions, such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease)."

Orally administered ursodeoxycholic acid, the parent molecule, is already FDA-approved for the treatment of primary biliary cirrhosis.


Other authors of the study include C. Dirk Keene, Cecilia M.P. Rodrigues, Tacjana Eich, and Manik S. Chhabra.

Walter Low, professor of neurosurgery (contact through Brenda Hudson)
Brenda Hudson, Academic Health Center, (612) 624-5680

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