London, November 27 : German researchers are surprised that the deadly neurological disease Huntington's improves ability at some cognitive tests.
Christian Beste, from the Leibniz Research Centre for Working Environment and Human Factors in Dortmund, says that this discovery is helping his team understand the illness.
During the study, he and his colleagues asked 13 people with Huntington's and 25 apparently healthy controls, half of whom had a gene for Huntington's but no symptoms, to judge whether tones played in a series were long or short.
While Huntington's is known to impair the brain's ability at most cognitive tests, the participants in the current study performed better at the test they had.
Beste revealed that the experimental subjects had an average reaction time of 0.5 seconds, compared with 0.64 seconds for the controls.
People with Huntington's even made fewer errors, he revealed in an article in the Journal of Neuroscience.
He says that the brain's better performance at a certain cognitive test with the neurological disease could be because neurons become abnormally sensitive to the neurotransmitter glutamate, and eventually die off as a result.
Given the importance of glutamate to sensory discrimination, Beste says that this extra sensitivity could explain the improvements his team found.
He says that the finding strengthens the glutamate theory, and suggests the cognitive task be used as a test for drugs that block the glutamate response, reports New Scientist magazine.
Considering the findings of the study, Jerry Buccafusco of the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta says that drug designers should take care to preserve brain functions that work despite disease.