Gastrointestinal dysfunction contributes to weight loss in Huntington's disease mice

Neurobiol Dis. 2011 Oct;44(1):1-8. doi: 10.1016/j.nbd.2011.05.006. Epub 2011 May 23.


Weight loss is the most important non-neurological complication of Huntington's disease (HD). It correlates with disease progression and affects the quality of life of HD patients, suggesting that it could be a valuable target for therapeutic intervention. The mechanism underlying weight loss in HD is unknown. Mutant huntingtin, the protein that causes the disease, is not only expressed in the brain, but also along the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Here we demonstrate that the GI tract of HD mice is affected. At the anatomical level we observed loss of enteric neuropeptides, as well as decreased mucosal thickness and villus length. Exploring the functions of the GI system we found impaired gut motility, diarrhea, and malabsorption of food. The degree of malabsorption was inversely associated with body weight, suggesting that GI dysfunction plays an important role in weight loss in HD mice. In summary, these observations suggest that the GI tract is affected in HD mice and that GI dysfunction contributes to nutritional deficiencies and weight loss.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology
  • Animals
  • Body Weight / physiology
  • Enteric Nervous System / cytology
  • Enteric Nervous System / physiology
  • Feces / chemistry
  • Female
  • Gastric Mucosa / physiology
  • Gastric Mucosa / ultrastructure
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / etiology
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Gastrointestinal Motility / physiology
  • Huntington Disease / complications
  • Huntington Disease / physiopathology*
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Intestinal Absorption / physiology
  • Intestinal Mucosa / physiology
  • Intestinal Mucosa / ultrastructure
  • Malabsorption Syndromes / genetics
  • Malabsorption Syndromes / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Water / metabolism
  • Weight Loss / physiology*


  • Water