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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.

Longitudinal Increases in Cerebral Brain Activation During Working Memory Performance in Friedreich Ataxia: 24-Month Data from IMAGE-FRDA

This study assessed longitudinal changes in brain activation, associated with working memory performance (N-back task), and grey matter volume over 24 months in 21 individuals with Friedreich Ataxia (FRDA) and 28 healthy controls using functional and structural magnetic resonance imaging, respectively. Participants also completed a neurocognitive battery assessing working memory (digit span), executive function (Stroop, Haylings), and set-shifting (Trail Making Test). Individuals with FRDA displayed significantly increased brain activation over 24 months in ventral attention brain regions, including bilateral insula and inferior frontal gyrus (pars triangularis and pars opercularis), compared with controls, but there was no difference in working memory (N-back) performance between groups. Moreover, there were no significant differences in grey matter volume changes between groups. Significant correlations between brain activations and both clinical severity and age at disease onset were observed in FRDA individuals only at 24 months. There was significant longitudinal decline in Trail Making Test (TMT) difference score (B-A) in individuals with FRDA, compared with controls. These findings provide the first evidence of increased longitudinal activation over time in the cerebral cortex in FRDA, compared with controls, despite comparable working memory performance. This finding represents a possible compensatory response in the ventral attention network to help sustain working memory performance in individuals with FRDA.

Read the entire article HERE

Exenatide induces frataxin expression and improves mitochondrial function in Friedreich ataxia

In this study, the authors examined the metabolic, neuroprotective and frataxin-inducing effects of glucagon-like-peptide 1 (GLP-1) analogs in in vivo and in vitro models and in Friedreich ataxia patients. The GLP-1 analog exenatide improved glucose homeostasis of frataxin-deficient mice through enhanced insulin content and secretion in pancreatic β-cells. Exenatide induced frataxin and iron-sulfur cluster-containing proteins in β-cells and brain, and was protective to sensory neurons in dorsal root ganglia. GLP-1 analogs also induced frataxin expression, reduced oxidative stress and improved mitochondrial function in Friedreich ataxia patients' induced pluripotent stem cell-derived β-cells and sensory neurons. The frataxin-inducing effect of exenatide was confirmed in a pilot trial in Friedreich ataxia patients, showing modest frataxin induction in platelets over a 5-week treatment course. Taken together, GLP-1 analogs improve mitochondrial function in frataxin-deficient cells and induce frataxin expression. These findings identify incretin receptors as a therapeutic target in Friedreich ataxia.

Read the entire article HERE

Age of onset determines intrinsic functional brain architecture in Friedreich ataxia

In this study the authors used magnetoencephalography (MEG) to characterize the main determinants of Friedreich ataxia (FRDA)-related changes in intrinsic functional brain architecture. Five minutes of MEG signals were recorded at rest from 18 right-handed FRDA patients (mean age 27 years, 9 females; mean SARA score: 21.4) and matched healthy individuals. The MEG connectome was estimated as resting-state functional connectivity (rsFC) matrices involving 37 nodes from six major resting state networks and the cerebellum. Source-level rsFC maps were computed using leakage-corrected broad-band (3-40 Hz) envelope correlations. Post hoc median-split was used to contrast rsFC in FRDA patients with different clinical characteristics. Nonparametric permutations and Spearman rank correlation test were used for statistics. High rank correlation levels were found between rsFC and age of symptoms onset in FRDA mostly between the ventral attention, the default-mode, and the cerebellar networks; patients with higher rsFC developing symptoms at an older age. Increased rsFC was found in FRDA with later age of symptoms onset compared to healthy subjects. No correlations were found between rsFC and other clinical parameters. This study points to age of symptom onset as a major determinant of FRDA patients' intrinsic functional brain architecture. Higher rsFC in FRDA patients with later age of symptom onset supports compensatory mechanisms for FRDA-related neural network dysfunction and position neuromagnetic rsFC as potential marker of FRDA neural reserve.

Read the entire article HERE

Electrophysiological evidence for limited progression of the proprioceptive impairment in Friedreich ataxia

Cortico-kinematic coherence (CKC) is the coupling between movement-related proprioceptive inputs and the activity of the contralateral primary sensorimotor cortex activity recorded by magnetoencephalography or electroencephalography. CKC is an electrophysiological marker of spino-cortical proprioceptive function with high test-retest reliability. In a cohort of FRDA patients, the CKC levels were reduced by about 70% and correlated with the size of GAA1 triplet expansion and the age of symptoms onset suggesting that proprioceptive impairment in FRDA is genetically determined and scarcely progressive after symptoms onset. Here, the authors re-tested the same FRDA patients after 1 year to assess whether the CKC levels deteriorate over time or whether they remain stable as a sign of early developmental proprioceptive impairment.

Read the entire article HERE

Mitochondrial dysfunction in neurons in Friedreich's ataxia

Based on clinical evidence, the peripheral nervous system is affected early in Friedreich's ataxia, neuronal dysfunction progresses towards the central nervous system, and other organs (such as heart and pancreas) are affected later. However, little attention has been given to the specific aspects of mitochondria function altered by frataxin depletion in the nervous system. For years, commonly accepted views on mitochondria dysfunction in Friedreich's ataxia stemmed from studies using non-neuronal systems and may not apply to neurons, which have their own bioenergetic needs and present a unique, extensive neurite network. Moreover, the basis of the selective neuronal vulnerability, which primarily affects large sensory neurons in the dorsal root ganglia, large principal neurons in the dentate nuclei of the cerebellum, and pyramidal neurons in the cerebral cortex, remains elusive. In order to identify potential misbeliefs in the field and highlight controversies, the authors reviewed current knowledge on frataxin expression in different tissues, discussed the molecular function of frataxin, and the consequences of its deficiency for mitochondria structural and functional properties, with a focus on the nervous system.

Read the entire article HERE

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