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The Brain and HD

What is happening to the brain of someone with Huntington Disease?
Individuals with HD have a progressive loss of cells in the part of the brain called the basal ganglia. These cells are dying and are not being replaced. Over time, thousands of brain cells will be lost, and with their loss, patients experience a decline in emotional, physical and reasoning abilities. At autopsy, the brain of a person with advanced Huntington disease weighs less than a normal brain, and there are areas of substantial cell death.


Macroscopic image in which a slice of Huntington's brain (left) is put next to a slice from a normal control (right). Note that the striatum (the caudate nucleus, putamen, and nucleus accumbens), on the left, is severely atrophied in the Huntington's brain. Note also that the cerebral cortex is atrophied in the Huntington's brain.
Photo courtesy of the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center

 

Microscopic image of the striatum in a Huntington's brain, showing pronounced reactive gliosis. The astrocytes are sending out their amoeba-like red processes, in response to the neurodegeneration. Almost no neurons are left.
Photo courtesy of the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center

 

Striatum from a normal control at the same magnification, showing some normal neurons and a smooth background. No reactive gliosis is present.
Photo courtesy of the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center

Autopsy Planning and Brain Donation
To advance research in HD, many scientists are comparing changes in the brain found among those individuals who have developed HD with the changes observed in the brains of individuals who do not have HD.

If you are interested in donating your brain to research, visit the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center website.

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