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CNS Neurosci Ther. 2010 Jun;16(3):163-78. doi: 10.1111/j.1755-5949.2010.00134.x. Epub 2010 Apr 8.

Dopamine and glutamate in Huntington's disease: A balancing act.

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Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center, Semel Institute, Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, USA. <>


Huntington's disease (HD) is caused by a CAG repeat expansion in exon 1 of the HD gene resulting in a long polyglutamine tract in the N-terminus of the protein huntingtin. Patients carrying the mutation display chorea in early stages followed by akinesia and sometimes dystonia in late stages. Other major symptoms include depression, anxiety, irritability or aggressive behavior, and apathy. Although many neuronal systems are affected, dysfunction and subsequent neurodegeneration in the basal ganglia and cortex are the most apparent pathologies. In HD, the primary hypothesis has been that there is an initial overactivity of glutamate neurotransmission that produces excitotoxicity followed by a series of complex changes that are different in the striatum and in the cortex. This review will focus on evidence for alterations in dopamine (DA)-glutamate interactions in HD, concentrating on the striatum and cortex. The most recent evidence points to decreases in DA and glutamate neurotransmission as the HD phenotype develops. However, there is some evidence for increased DA and glutamate functions that could be responsible for some of the early HD phenotype. Significant evidence indicates that glutamate and dopamine neurotransmission is affected in HD, compromising the fine balance in which DA modulates glutamate-induced excitation in the basal ganglia and cortex. Restoring the balance between glutamate and dopamine could be helpful to treat HD symptoms.

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