Using a specially designed robotic microscope to study cultured cells, researchers have found evidence that abnormal protein clumps called inclusion bodies in neurons from people with Huntingtons disease (HD) prevent cell death. The finding helps to resolve a longstanding debate about the role of these inclusion bodies in HD and other disorders and may help investigators find effective treatments for these diseases. The study was funded primarily by the NIHs National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and appears in the October 14, 2004, issue of Nature.*
Inclusion bodies are common to many neurodegenerative disorders, including HD, Parkinsons disease, Alzheimers disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The role of inclusion bodies in these diseases has long been controversial. Some studies suggest that they may be a critical part of the disease process, while others indicate that they may help protect the cells from toxic proteins or that they are merely bystanders in the disease process.
One problem in identifying how inclusion bodies influence disease is that researchers have been unable to track changes in individual neurons over time. "It was like viewing pictures of a football game and trying to imagine the score," says Steven Finkbeiner, M.D., Ph.D., of the Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease and the University of California, San Francisco. "Much was happening that we couldnt see."
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