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Scientific News

FARA funds research progress

In this section, you will find the most recent FA research publications, many of which are funded by FARA, as well as information on upcoming conferences and symposiums. You can search for articles by date using the archive box in the right hand column. To locate FARA Funded or Supported Research, click the hyperlink in the right hand column. You may also search for specific content using key words or phrases in the search button at the top right of your screen. Please be sure to visit other key research sections of our website for information on FARA’s Grant Program and the Treatment Pipeline.


Very late-onset Friedreich's ataxia with rapid course mimicking as possible multiple system atrophy cerebellar type

A 55-year-old man was admitted to the hospital with an insidious onset, progressive backward fall (due to severe truncal ataxia), dysarthria, stiffness in extremities, distal dominant muscle wasting along with behavioral changes and urinary incontinence. Clinical assessment indicated mild cognitive decline (Mini-Mental State Examination 22/27) with cerebellar, pyramidal and peripheral nerves involvement. On investigations, nerve conduction studies revealed symmetrical, sensorimotor peripheral neuropathy affecting both lower limbs. Brain and whole spine MRI revealed widespread cerebral and mild cerebellar atrophy, pons and medulla volume loss, and a normal spinal cord. Transthoracic echocardiography revealed concentric left ventricular hypertrophy. His gene analysis revealed eight GAA repeats on allele 1, and 37 GAA repeats on allele 2 in the first intron of the frataxin gene. Considering his clinical profile and genetic analysis, he was diagnosed as a case of very late-onset Friedreich's ataxia with likely compound heterozygous genotype.

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Interruptions of the FXN GAA Repeat Tract Delay the Age at Onset of Friedreich's Ataxia in a Location Dependent Manner

The GAA repeat tract in intron 1 of the FXN gene in some cases may be impure with sequence variations called interruptions. It has previously been observed that large interruptions of the GAA repeat tract, determined by abnormal MboII digestion, are very rare. The authors used triplet repeat primed PCR (TP PCR) assays to identify small interruptions at the 5' and 3' ends of the GAA repeat tract through alterations in the electropherogram trace signal. Contrary to large interruptions, small interruptions are more common, with 3' interruptions being most frequent. Based on detection of interruptions by TP PCR assay, the patient cohort (n = 101) was stratified into four groups: 5' interruption, 3' interruption, both 5' and 3' interruptions or lacking interruption. Those patients with 3' interruptions were associated with shorter GAA1 repeat tracts and later ages at disease onset. The age at disease onset was modelled by a group-specific exponential decay model. Based on this modelling, a 3' interruption is predicted to delay disease onset by approximately 9 years relative to those lacking 5' and 3' interruptions. This highlights the key role of interruptions at the 3' end of the GAA repeat tract in modulating the disease phenotype and its impact on prognosis for the patient.

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Rare occurrence of severe blindness and deafness in Friedreich ataxia: a case report

Friedreich ataxia is the most frequent hereditary ataxia worldwide. Subclinical visual and auditory involvement has been recognized in these patients, with co-occurrence of severe blindness and deafness being rare. The authors describe a patient, homozygous for a 873 GAA expansion in the FXN gene, whose first symptoms appeared by the age of 8. At 22 years-old he developed sensorineural deafness, and at 26 visual impairment. Deafness had a progressive course over 11 years, until a stage of extreme severity which hindered communication. Visual acuity had a catastrophic deterioration, with blindness 3 years after visual impairment was first noticed. Audiograms documented progressive sensorineural deafness, most striking for low frequencies. Visual evoked potentials disclosed bilaterally increased P100 latency. He passed away at the age of 41 years old, at a stage of extreme disability, blind and deaf, in addition to the complete phenotype of a patient with Friedreich ataxia of more than 30 years duration. Severe vision loss and extreme deafness have been described in very few patients with Friedreich ataxia. Long duration, severe disease and large expanded alleles may account for such an extreme phenotype; nonetheless, the role of factors as modifying genes warrants further investigation in this subset of patients.

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Friedreich Ataxia: Multidisciplinary Clinical Care

Friedreich ataxia (FRDA) is a multisystem disorder affecting 1 in 50,000-100,000 person in the United States. Traditionally viewed as a neurodegenerative disease, FRDA patients also develop cardiomyopathy, scoliosis, diabetes and other manifestation. Although it usually presents in childhood, it continues throughout life, thus requiring expertise from both pediatric and adult subspecialist in order to provide optimal management. The phenotype of FRDA is unique, giving rise to specific loss of neuronal pathways, a unique form of cardiomyopathy with early hypertrophy and later fibrosis, and diabetes incorporating components of both type I and type II disease. Vision loss, hearing loss, urinary dysfunction and depression also occur in FRDA. Many agents are reaching Phase III trials; if successful, these will provide a variety of new treatments for FRDA that will require many specialists who are not familiar with FRDA to provide clinical therapy. This review provides a summary of the diverse manifestation of FRDA, existing symptomatic therapies, and approaches for integrative care for future therapy in FRDA.

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Myocardial Perfusion Reserve in Children with Friedreich Ataxia

Children with Friedreich's ataxia (FA) are at risk of perioperative morbidity and mortality from severe unpredictable heart failure. There is currently no clear way of identifying patients at highest risk. This group used myocardial perfusion reserve (MPR), an MRI technique used to assess the maximal myocardial blood flow above baseline, to help determine potential surgical risk in FA subjects. In total, seven children with genetically confirmed FA, ages 8-17 years, underwent MPR stress testing using regadenoson. Six of the seven demonstrated impaired endocardial perfusion during coronary hyperemia. The same six were also found to have evidence of ongoing myocardial damage as illustrated by cardiac troponin I leak (range 0.04-0.17 ng/mL, normal < 0.03 ng/mL). None of the patients had a reduced ejection fraction (range 59-74%) or elevated insulin level (range 2.46-14.23 mCU/mL). This retrospective study shows that children with FA develop MPR defects early in the disease process. It also suggests MPR may be a sensitive tool to evaluate underlying cardiac compromise and could be of use in directing surgical management decisions in children with FA.

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