The Effect of Education on Symptom Onset and Severity of Huntington's Disease

Mov Disord Clin Pract. 2021 Mar 30;8(4):555-562. doi: 10.1002/mdc3.13195. eCollection 2021 May.


Background: Huntington disease (HD) is an inherited neurodegenerative disorder characterized by motor, psychiatric, and cognitive symptoms. Little is known about the effects of environmental factors on HD symptom onset and severity.

Objective: To evaluate the relationship between education level and age of diagnosis, symptom onset, and symptom severity in HD.

Methods: This study evaluated 4537 adult-onset, motor-manifest HD participants from the Enroll-HD global registry. Education level was assessed using International Standard Classification of Education categories, stratified into three education groups corresponding to pre-secondary, secondary, and post-secondary educational attainment. Motor and behavioral symptoms of HD, cognition, and functional capacity were measured using baseline Unified Huntington's Disease Rating Scale (UHDRS), Mini-Mental State Exam (MMSE), Symbol Digit Modalities Test (SDMT), verbal fluency, and Stroop assessments.

Results: After adjusting for CAG repeats, higher level of education predicted lower age of onset of motor symptoms, depression, irritability, and cognitive impairment (all P-values < 0.001). After adjusting for age of enrollment and CAG repeats, the highest education level predicted the lowest UHDRS motor scores, higher UHDRS total functional capacity and functional assessment scores, and higher SDMT, MMSE, verbal fluency, and Stroop assessment scores (all P-values < 0.001).

Conclusions: HD participants with higher education levels have earlier age of diagnosis and age of symptom onset, but lower motor exam scores and higher functional assessment scores. Earlier recognition of symptoms in more highly educated participants may explain earlier symptom onset and diagnosis. Better performance on motor and functional assessments may be explained by higher cognitive reserve in those with greater education.

Keywords: Huntington disease; cognitive reserve; education; enroll‐HD.