A new test to measure apathy is effective in Huntington’s disease

The test can distinguish different subtypes of apathy in Huntington’s patients, which opens up new perspectives for understanding this symptomatology, considered a marker of progression. 

In addition, the study defines a certain correspondence between each apathetic subtype and the activation of some brain regions. 

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The research, led by Dra. Estela Càmara and PhD researcher Audrey De Paepe, helps to understand apathy, the most psychiatric profile of Huntington’s disease, which has a very large impact on patients’ quality of life. 

Apathy, which is defined as a generalized lack of motivation and interest, is a more complex syndrome that is divided into three subtypes: cognitive apathy (lack of initiative to carry out cognitive activities), deficit in self-activation (lack of drive to start things) and emotional apathy (decreased expression of emotions). Knowing apathy well is key, as it is a pathological manifestation in multiple neurological disorders. For example, in the case of Huntington’s disease, apathy is considered a marker of progression. 

Now a group from IDIBELL and the University of Barcelona have demonstrated the effectiveness of a test to measure apathy in Huntington’s disease, which also can discern different apathetic profiles. This test, called LARS-s (Short-Lille Apathy Rating Scale), consists of a standardized interview based on a structured dichotomous scale, thus reducing subjective interpretations. “There is a lot of variability between the different apathetic types, therefore, studying the apathy profiles of each patient can open new perspectives to understand this symptomatology that currently has very little treatment.” In addition, “it is key to have clinical scales that allow us to establish an appropriate differential diagnosis with other symptoms such as depression or cognitive impairment” adds Dra. Estela Càmara, project leader and principal researcher at IDIBELL. 

In parallel to the test validation, the study correlates the apathy profiles with the activation of some brain regions by neuroimaging. The results show that apathy is anatomically related to motor, cognitive and limbic networks and the different apathy profiles corralate with the activation of a specific cortical and subcortical ganglia. Dr. Estela Càmara concludes that “these discoveries encourage further study of apathy subtypes to identify personalized therapeutic targets in neurological disorders as well as Huntington’s disease. 



Delineating apathy profiles in Huntington’s disease with the short-Lille Apathy Rating Scale. De Paepe AE, Garcia-Gorro C, Martinez-Horta S, Perez JP, Kulisevsky J, Rodriguez-Dechicha N, Vaquer I, Subira S, Calopa M, Santacruz P, Muñoz E, Mareca C, Ruiz-Idiago J, de Diego-Balaguer R, Camara E. Parkinsonism Relat Disord. 2022 Dec;105:83-89.

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