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News Briefs Two

Another Step against Huntington's Disease Reported

Los Angeles Times

Following up on the discovery two years ago of the gene that causes Huntington's disease, researchers have identified a key protein involved in the progression of the disorder -- a discovery that opens the possibility of the first effective treatment for the hitherto mystifying disease.

Shortly after the Huntington's gene was identified, researchers found the protein it produces, an unusually large molecule they called huntingtin that was unlike any protein previously identified.

But they did not, and still do not, know what either the healthy huntingtin protein or its aberrant form does in a cell.

Huntington's is one of the more common inherited brain disorders. About 25,000 Americans have it and another 60,000 or so carry the defective gene and will develop the disorder as they age. The slowly progressing disease, which killed folksinger Woody Guthrie, among others, usually comes on between the ages of 30 and 50 and causes the degeneration of brain cells.

It is characterized by jerky, involuntary movements called chorea and by dementia, a progressive deterioration of thought processes. Children of victims have a 50 percent chance of developing the disease.

A team from Johns Hopkins University reported here Monday at a meeting of the Society for Neuroscience that they have found a second protein, called HAP-1, that binds to the huntingtin molecule only in the brain. HAP binds much more tightly to defective huntingtin than to the healthy form, and it appears to be this tightly bound complex that causes damage to brain cells.

"Finding (HAP-1) is like finding a gun at a murder scene," said Dr. Christopher Ross of Johns Hopkins.

Ross and his colleagues hope to find simple drugs that can weaken this binding, thereby preventing progression of the disease.

PRI Winning Michoacan Governorship as PAN Builds Base

Los Angeles Times

Mexico's long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party ended its worst political year in six decades on a high note Monday -- apparently holding on to the governorship in the key state of Michoacan and maintaining a narrow majority in five state legislatures.

But as official returns poured in from local elections in six states and Mexico City, millions of Mexican voters appeared to continue to turn against the state party, strengthen the nation's conservative opposition and reject its political left.

Official tallies will not be complete until later this week. But with more than 60 percent of the vote counted in most places, the National Action Party (PAN) -- now the nation's second-largest -- was headed for wins in more than a dozen mayoral races in major cities and was neck-and-neck for second place in the Michoacan gubernatorial poll.

That showing for the 56-year-old, center-right PAN appeared to bolster its long-term strategy to build a national power base that can unseat the PRI from the presidency for the first time in 66 years in the year 2000.