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Mice 'Stimulate' Their Way to Delaying Huntington's Disease


Although this is the very first time that scientists have been able to delay disease onset, van Dellen tells WebMD that it's far too early to tell Huntington's disease patients with any certainty that a particular activity or lifestyle will keep symptoms at bay. Environmental enrichment is quite complex, he says, and any number of potentially important factors could be at work.

"Enriched-environment mice were continually exposed to new sensory stimuli," van Dellen tells WebMD. "They exercised more. They used fine-motor skills." Much harder to quantify, but also worth investigating, is what he calls "the enjoyment factor." Perhaps the benefit came not from any one factor, but rather from the "pleasure" or stress-relief of the overall environment. "You're in a less stressful environment if you're running on a wheel than if you're sitting all day in the corner of a box," he says.

Even though this finding is only the beginning of extensive future work, van Dellen tells WebMD that there is most definitely cause for optimism. "I think the fact that there's been such a clear link shown between environment and disease onset shows that we're not just products of our genetic makeup, but also of how we interact with our environment. We can steer our own fate by the environment we choose."

Vital Information:

  • Scientists have been able to delay the onset of Huntington's disease in mice by providing them with a stimulating environment.
  • With Huntington's disease, certain areas of the brain degenerate, but these stimulated mice showed less degeneration than other mice with the disease.
  • Researchers do not yet know how the findings will translate to humans, partly because an enriched environment is difficult to quantify, as it encourages more exercise, more fine-motor skills, more enjoyment, and less overall stress.
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