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FARA Funded Research

Your generous support has funded all the research listed below.


For more information on FARA-funded research & scientists, please visit FARA Supported Research, Active Clinical Trials and the Featured Scientist.

A Drug Combination Rescues Frataxin-Dependent Neural and Cardiac Pathophysiology in FA Models

To date, FA therapeutic strategies have focused along two main lines using a single-drug approach: a) increasing frataxin and b) enhancing downstream pathways, including antioxidant levels and mitochondrial function. This paper presents novel strategy that employs a combinatorial approach to screen approved compounds to determine if a combination of molecules provides an additive or synergistic benefit to FA cells and/or animal models. Eight single drug molecules were administered to FA fibroblast patient cells: nicotinamide riboside, hemin, betamethasone, resveratrol, epicatechin, histone deacetylase inhibitor 109, methylene blue, and dimethyl fumarate. Their individual ability to induce FXN transcription and mitochondrial biogenesis in patient cells was measured. Single-drug testing highlighted that dimethyl fumarate and resveratrol increased these two parameters. In addition, the simultaneous administration of these two drugs was the most effective in terms of FXN mRNA and mitobiogenesis increase. Interestingly, this combination also improved mitochondrial functions and reduced reactive oxygen species in neurons and cardiomyocytes. Behavioral tests in an FA mouse model treated with dimethyl fumarate and resveratrol demonstrated improved rotarod performance. These data suggest that dimethyl fumarate is effective as a single agent, and the addition of resveratrol provides further benefit in some assays without showing toxicity. Therefore, they could be a valuable combination to counteract FA pathophysiology. Further studies will help fully understand the potential of a combined therapeutic strategy in FA pathophysiology.

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Simultaneous Quantification of Mitochondrial Mature Frataxin and Extra-Mitochondrial Frataxin Isoform E in Friedreich's Ataxia Blood

Full-length frataxin has a mitochondrial targeting sequence, which facilitates its translocation into mitochondria where it is processed through cleavage at G41-L42 and K80-S81 by mitochondrial processing (MPP) to release mitochondrial mature frataxin (81-210). Alternative splicing of FXN also leads to expression of N-terminally acetylated extra-mitochondrial frataxin (76-210) named isoform E because it was discovered in erythrocytes. The discovery that isoform E is only present in erythrocytes, whereas, mature frataxin is present primarily in short-lived peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs), granulocytes, and platelets, meant that both proteins could be quantified in whole blood samples. This study reports a quantitative assay for frataxin proteoforms in whole blood from healthy controls and FRDA patients. The assay is based on stable isotope dilution coupled with immunoprecipitation (IP) and two-dimensional-nano-ultrahigh performance liquid chromatography/parallel reaction monitoring/high resolution mass spectrometry (2D-nano-UHPLC-PRM/HRMS). The lower limit of quantification was 0.5 ng/mL for each proteoform and the assays had 100% sensitivity and specificity for discriminating between healthy controls (n = 11) and FRDA cases (N = 100 in year-1, N = 22 in year-2,3). The mean levels of mature frataxin in whole blood from healthy controls and homozygous FRDA patients were significantly different (p < 0.0001) at 7.5 ± 1.5 ng/mL and 2.1 ± 1.2 ng/mL, respectively. The mean levels of isoform E in whole blood from healthy controls and homozygous FRDA patients were significantly different (p < 0.0001) at 26.8 ± 4.1 ng/mL and 4.7 ± 3.3 ng/mL, respectively. The mean levels of total frataxin in whole blood from healthy controls and homozygous FRDA patients were significantly different (p < 0.0001) at 34.2 ± 4.3 ng/mL and 6.8 ± 4.0 ng/mL, respectively. The assay will make it possible to rigorously monitor the natural history of the disease and explore the potential role of isoform E in etiology of the disease. It will also facilitate the assessment of therapeutic interventions (including gene therapy approaches) that attempt to increase frataxin protein expression as a treatment for this devastating disease.

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Frataxin deficiency lowers lean mass and triggers the integrated stress response in skeletal muscle

Neurological and cardiac comorbidities are prominent in FRDA and have been a major focus of study. Skeletal muscle has received less attention despite indications that FXN loss affects it. Here, the authors show that lean mass is lower, whereas body mass index is unaltered, in separate cohorts of adults and children with FRDA. In adults, lower lean mass correlated with disease severity. To further investigate FXN loss in skeletal muscle, a transgenic mouse model of whole-body inducible and progressive FXN depletion was used. There was little impact of FXN loss when FXN was approximately 20% of control levels. When residual FXN was approximately 5% of control levels, muscle mass was lower along with absolute grip strength. When we examined mechanisms that can affect muscle mass, only global protein translation was lower, accompanied by integrated stress response (ISR) activation. Also in mice, aerobic exercise training, initiated prior to the muscle mass difference, improved running capacity, yet, muscle mass and the ISR remained as in untrained mice. Thus, FXN loss can lead to lower lean mass, with ISR activation, both of which are insensitive to exercise training.

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Posttranslational Regulation of Mitochondrial Frataxin and Identification of Compounds that Increase Frataxin Levels in Friedreich's Ataxia

This study shows that conditions that result in increased mitochondrial reactive oxygen species (ROS) in yeast or mammalian cell culture give rise to increased turnover of frataxin, but not of other iron-sulfur cluster (ISC) synthesis proteins. The authors demonstrate that the mitochondrial Lon protease is involved in frataxin degradation and that iron export through the mitochondrial metal transporter Mmt1 protects yeast frataxin from degradation. When FRDA fibroblasts were grown in media containing elevated iron, mitochondrial ROS increased and frataxin decreased compared to WT fibroblasts. Furthermore, a library of FDA-approved compounds was screened and 38 compounds that increased yeast frataxin levels identified, including the azole Bifonazole, antiparasitic Fipronil, anti-tumor compound Dibenzoylmethane (DBM), antihypertensive 4-hydroxychalcone (4'-OHC), and a non-specific anion channel inhibitor 4,4-diisothiocyanostilbene-2,2-sulfonic acid (DIDS). The authors show that top hits 4'-OHC and DBM increased mRNA levels of transcription factor Nrf2 in FRDA patient-derived fibroblasts, as well as downstream antioxidant targets thioredoxin (TXN), glutathione reductase (GSR), and superoxide dismutase 2 (SOD2). Taken together, these findings reveal that FRDA progression may be in part due to oxidant-mediated decreases in frataxin, and that some approved compounds may be effective in increasing mitochondrial frataxin in FRDA, delaying disease progression.

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Bone Mineral Density and Current Bone Health Screening Practices in Friedreich's Ataxia

Impaired bone health is a complication of disorders affecting mobility, but there is little information regarding bone health in FRDA. Dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scan-based assessments of areal bone mineral density (aBMD) in individuals with FRDA were abstracted from four studies at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). Disease outcomes, including the modified FRDA Rating Scale (mFARS), were abstracted from the FRDA Clinical Outcomes Measures Study (FACOMS), a longitudinal natural history study. A survey regarding bone health and fractures was sent to individuals in FACOMS-CHOP. Adults with FRDA (n = 24) have lower mean whole body (WB) (-0.45 vs. 0.33, p = 0.008) and femoral neck (FN) (-0.71 vs. 0.004, p = 0.02) aBMD Z-scores than healthy controls (n = 24). Children with FRDA (n = 10) have a lower WB-less-head (-2.2 vs. 0.19, p < 0.0001) and FN (-1.1 vs. 0.04, p = 0.01) aBMD than a reference population (n = 30). In adults, lower FN aBMD correlated with functional disease severity, as reflected by mFARS (R = -0.56, p = 0.04). Of 137 survey respondents (median age 27 y, 50% female), 70 (51%) reported using wheelchairs as their primary ambulatory device: of these, 20 (29%) reported a history of potentially pathologic fracture and 11 (16%) had undergone DXA scans. Low aBMD is prevalent in FRDA, but few of even the highest risk individuals are undergoing screening. These findings highlight potential missed opportunities for the screening and treatment of low aBMD in FRDA.

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