Huntington disease (HD) is a dominantly inherited progressive neurological disease characterized by chorea, an involuntary brief movement that tends to flow between body regions. HD is typically diagnosed based on clinical findings in the setting of a family history and may be confirmed with genetic testing. Predictive testing is available to those at risk, but only experienced clinicians should perform the counseling and testing. Multiple areas of the brain degenerate mainly involving the neurotransmitters dopamine, glutamate, and γ-aminobutyric acid. Although pharmacotherapies theoretically target these neurotransmitters, few well-conducted trials for symptomatic or neuroprotective interventions yielded positive results. Tetrabenazine (TBZ) is a dopamine-depleting agent that may be one of the more effective agents for reducing chorea, although it has a risk of potentially serious adverse effects. Some newer antipsychotic agents, such as olanzapine and aripiprazole, may have adequate efficacy with a more favorable adverse-effect profile than older antipsychotic agents for treating chorea and psychosis. This review will address the epidemiology and diagnosis of HD as background for understanding potential pharmacological treatment options. Because TBZ is the only US Food and Drug Administration-approved medication in the United States for HD, the focus of this review will be on its pharmacology, efficacy, safety, and practical uses. There are no current treatments to change the course of HD, but education and symptomatic therapies can be effective tools for clinicians to use with patients and families affected by HD.
Keywords: dopamine-depleting agent; neuroleptics; tetrabenazine.