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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.

Ferroptosis in Friedreich's Ataxia: A Metal-Induced Neurodegenerative Disease

Ferroptosis is an iron-dependent form of regulated cell death, arising from the accumulation of lipid-based reactive oxygen species when glutathione-dependent repair systems are compromised. Lipid peroxidation, mitochondrial impairment and iron dyshomeostasis are the hallmark of ferroptosis, which is emerging as a crucial player in neurodegeneration. This review provides an analysis of the most recent advances in ferroptosis, with a special focus on Friedreich's Ataxia (FA), the most common autosomal recessive neurodegenerative disease, caused by reduced levels of frataxin, a mitochondrial protein involved in iron-sulfur cluster synthesis and antioxidant defenses. The hypothesis is that the iron-induced oxidative damage accumulates over time in FA, lowering the ferroptosis threshold and leading to neuronal cell death and, at last, to cardiac failure. The use of anti-ferroptosis drugs combined with treatments able to activate the antioxidant response will be of paramount importance in FA therapy, such as in many other neurodegenerative diseases triggered by oxidative stress.

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Analysis of Postural Control in Sitting by Pressure Mapping in Patients with Multiple Sclerosis, Spinal Cord Injury and Friedreich's Ataxia: A Case Series Study

The postural control assessments in patients with neurological diseases lack reliability and sensitivity to small changes in patient functionality. The appearance of pressure mapping has allowed quantitative evaluation of postural control in sitting. This study was carried out to determine the evaluations in pressure mapping and verifying whether they are different between the three sample groups (multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury and Friedreich's ataxia), and to determine whether the variables extracted from the pressure mapping analysis are more sensitive than functional tests to evaluate the postural trunk control. A case series study was carried out in a sample of 10 adult patients with multiple sclerosis (n = 2), spinal cord injury (n = 4) and Friedreich's ataxia (n = 4). The tests applied were: pressure mapping, seated Lateral Reach Test, seated Functional Reach Test, Berg Balance Scale, Posture and Postural Ability Scale, Function in Sitting Test, and Trunk Control Test. The participants with Friedreich's ataxia showed a tendency to present a higher mean pressure on the seat of subject's wheelchair compared to other groups. In parallel, users with spinal cord injury showed a tendency to present the highest values of maximum pressure and area of contact. People with different neurological pathologies and similar results in functional tests have very different results in the pressure mapping. Although it is not possible to establish a strong statistical correlation, the relationships between the pressure mapping variables and the functional tests seem to be numerous, especially in the multiple sclerosis group.

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PPAR gamma agonist leriglitazone improves frataxin-loss impairments in cellular and animal models of Friedreich Ataxia

The peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma (PPARγ) is a ligand-activated transcriptional factor playing a key role in mitochondrial function and biogenesis, fatty acid storage, energy metabolism, and antioxidant defence. It has been previously shown that the PPARγ/PPARγ coactivator 1 alpha (PGC-1α) pathway is dysregulated when there is frataxin deficiency, thus contributing to Friedreich ataxia (FRDA) pathogenesis and supporting the PPARγ pathway as a potential therapeutic target. Here the authors assess whether MIN-102 (INN: leriglitazone), a novel brain penetrant and orally bioavailable PPARγ agonist with an improved profile for central nervous system (CNS) diseases, rescues phenotypic features in cellular and animal models of FRDA. In frataxin-deficient dorsal root ganglia (DRG) neurons, leriglitazone increased frataxin protein levels, reduced neurite degeneration and α-fodrin cleavage mediated by calpain and caspase 3, and increased survival. Leriglitazone also restored mitochondrial membrane potential and partially reversed decreased levels of mitochondrial Na+/Ca2+ exchanger (NCLX), resulting in an improvement of mitochondrial functions and calcium homeostasis. In frataxin-deficient primary neonatal cardiomyocytes, leriglitazone prevented lipid droplet accumulation without increases in frataxin levels. Furthermore, leriglitazone improved motor function deficit in YG8sR mice, a FRDA mouse model. In agreement with the role of PPARγ in mitochondrial biogenesis, leriglitazone significantly increased markers of mitochondrial biogenesis in FRDA patient cells. Overall, these results suggest that targeting the PPARγ pathway by leriglitazone may provide an efficacious therapy for FRDA increasing the mitochondrial function and biogenesis that could increase frataxin levels in compromised frataxin-deficient DRG neurons. Alternately, leriglitazone improved the energy metabolism by increasing the fatty acid β-oxidation in frataxin-deficient cardiomyocytes without elevation of frataxin levels. This could be linked to a lack of significant mitochondrial biogenesis and cardiac hypertrophy. The results reinforced the different tissue requirement in FRDA and the pleiotropic effects of leriglitazone that could be a promising therapy for FRDA.

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Sensitivity of Neuroimaging Indicators in Monitoring the Effects of Interferon Gamma Treatment in Friedreich's Ataxia

The identification of efficient markers of disease progression and response to possibly effective treatments is a key priority for slowly progressive, rare and neurodegenerative diseases, such as Friedreich's ataxia. Various imaging modalities have documented specific abnormalities in Friedreich's ataxia that could be tracked to provide useful indicators of efficacy in clinical trials. Advanced MRI imaging (diffusion tensor imaging, DTI; functional MRI, fMRI; and resting-state fMRI, rs-fMRI) and retinal imaging (optical coherence tomography, OCT) were tested longitudinally in a small group of Friedreich's ataxia patients participating in an open-label clinical trial testing the safety and the efficacy of 6-month treatment with interferon gamma. While the DTI indices documented the slow progression of fractional anisotropy loss, fMRI and rs-fMRI were significantly modified during and after treatment. The fMRI changes significantly correlated with the Scale for the Assessment and Rating of Ataxia, which is used to monitor clinical response. OCT documented the known thickness reduction of the retinal nerve fiber layer thickness, but there was no change over time. This pilot study provides indications for the potential utility of fMRI and rs-fMRI as ancillary measures in clinical trials for Friedreich's ataxia.

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Effect of Mitochondrial and Cytosolic FXN Isoform Expression on Mitochondrial Dynamics and Metabolism

Alternative forms of frataxin have been described, with different cellular localization and tissue distribution, including a cerebellum-specific cytosolic isoform called FXN II. Here, the authors explored the functional roles of FXN II in comparison to the mitochondrial FXN I isoform, highlighting the existence of potential cross-talk between cellular compartments. To achieve this, two human cell lines of patient and healthy subjects were transduced with lentiviral vectors overexpressing the mitochondrial or the cytosolic FXN isoforms and studied their effect on the mitochondrial network and metabolism. The cytosolic localization of FXN isoform II in the in vitro models was confirmed. Interestingly, both cytosolic and mitochondrial isoforms have an effect on mitochondrial dynamics, affecting different parameters. Accordingly, increases of mitochondrial respiration were detected after transduction with FXN I or FXN II in both cellular models. Together, these results point to the existence of a potential cross-talk mechanism between the cytosol and mitochondria, mediated by FXN isoforms. A more thorough knowledge of the mechanisms of action behind the extra-mitochondrial FXN II isoform could prove useful in unraveling FRDA physiopathology.

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