The findings from Scripps Research say this tunnel is initiated by a protein called Rhes, and the study improves understanding of how and why the disease attacks and destroys certain brain cells.

People with Huntington’s disease inherit a damaged protein that is somehow complicit in destroying brain cells. Scientists discovered this protein in 1993 but are still piecing together its role in the degenerative disease.

Scans show Huntington’s disease brains are shrunken and degraded, and as the neurons deteriorate, people lose motor control, can have emotional problems and their thinking and memory suffer.

Symptoms usually begin around the age of 30 to 40 and last 15 to 20 years until death. A rarer and more aggressive form of the disease affects children, cutting their childhood and lives short.

The new research, by neuroscientist Srinivasa Subramaniam, an associate professor in the Department of Neuroscience at Scripps Research in Florida, is seen as an important development in the study of Huntington’s.

“We are excited about this result because it may explain why the patient gets the disease in this area of the brain called the striatum,” he said.