OBJECTIVES: In addition to neuronal loss in striatum and cerebral cortex that characterizes Huntington's disease (HD), hypothalamic atrophy has also been found only in certain areas, probably not including dopaminergic functions.
METHODS: We assessed the reactivity of the hypothalamus-pituitary dopaminergic system by measuring the acute prolactin (PRL) responses to 5 mg i.m. haloperidol in male and female HD patients and in female subjects with expanded CAG repeats in the Huntington gene before disease onset, as well as in a group of healthy males.
RESULTS: The responses of the male patients were similar to those of a group of male healthy volunteers. Females gave higher PRL responses, with no differences in the response patterns of female patients and females at risk for HD. PRL elevations were not related to severity of illness, or to presence of dementia, depression, or psychotic features.
CONCLUSIONS: The results implicate a normal dopaminergic input from hypothalamus to pituitary and preserved pituitary dopamine receptors, indicating that hypothalamic atrophy in HD does not affect mechanisms involved in PRL secretion by haloperidol.