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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.



Identification of cardioprotective drugs by medium-scale in vivo pharmacological screening on a Drosophila cardiac model of Friedreich's ataxia

Friedreich's ataxia (FA) is caused by reduced levels of frataxin, a highly conserved mitochondrial protein. There is currently no effective treatment for this disease, characterized by progressive neurodegeneration and cardiomyopathy, the latter being the most common cause of death in patients. We previously developed a Drosophila melanogaster cardiac model of FA, in which the fly frataxin is inactivated specifically in the heart, leading to heart dilatation and impaired systolic function. Methylene Blue (MB) was highly efficient to prevent these cardiac dysfunctions. Here, we used this model to screen in vivo the Prestwick Chemical library, comprising 1280 compounds. Eleven drugs significantly reduced the cardiac dilatation, some of which may possibly lead to therapeutic applications in the future. The one with the strongest protective effects was Paclitaxel, a microtubule-stabilizing drug. In parallel, we characterized the histological defects induced by frataxin deficiency in cardiomyocytes and observed strong sarcomere alterations with loss of striation of actin fibers, along with full disruption of the microtubule network. Paclitaxel and MB both improved these structural defects. Therefore, we propose that frataxin inactivation induces cardiac dysfunction through impaired sarcomere assembly or renewal due to microtubule destabilization, without excluding additional mechanisms. This study is the first drug screening of this extent performed in vivo on a Drosophila model of cardiac disease. Thus, it also brings the proof of concept that cardiac functional imaging in adult Drosophila flies is usable for medium-scale in vivo pharmacological screening, with potent identification of cardioprotective drugs in various contexts of cardiac diseases.

Read the entire article HERE

Rapid and Complete Reversal of Sensory Ataxia by Gene Therapy in a Novel Model of Friedreich Ataxia

Friedreich ataxia (FA) is a rare mitochondrial disease characterized by sensory and spinocerebellar ataxia, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, and diabetes, for which there is no treatment. FA is caused by reduced levels of frataxin (FXN), an essential mitochondrial protein involved in the biosynthesis of iron-sulfur (Fe-S) clusters. Despite significant progress in recent years, to date, there are no good models to explore and test therapeutic approaches to stop or reverse the ganglionopathy and the sensory neuropathy associated to frataxin deficiency. Here, we report a new conditional mouse model with complete frataxin deletion in parvalbumin-positive cells that recapitulate the sensory ataxia and neuropathy associated to FA, albeit with a more rapid and severe course. Interestingly, although fully dysfunctional, proprioceptive neurons can survive for many weeks without frataxin. Furthermore, we demonstrate that post-symptomatic delivery of frataxin-expressing AAV allows for rapid and complete rescue of the sensory neuropathy associated with frataxin deficiency, thus establishing the pre-clinical proof of concept for the potential of gene therapy in treating FA neuropathy.

Read the entire article HERE

Drosophila melanogaster Models of Friedreich's Ataxia

Friedreich's ataxia (FRDA) is a rare inherited recessive disorder affecting the central and peripheral nervous systems and other extraneural organs such as the heart and pancreas. This incapacitating condition usually manifests in childhood or adolescence, exhibits an irreversible progression that confines the patient to a wheelchair, and leads to early death. FRDA is caused by a reduced level of the nuclear-encoded mitochondrial protein frataxin due to an abnormal GAA triplet repeat expansion in the first intron of the human FXN gene. FXN is evolutionarily conserved, with orthologs in essentially all eukaryotes and some prokaryotes, leading to the development of experimental models of this disease in different organisms. These FRDA models have contributed substantially to our current knowledge of frataxin function and the pathogenesis of the disease, as well as to explorations of suitable treatments. Drosophila melanogaster, an organism that is easy to manipulate genetically, has also become important in FRDA research. This review describes the substantial contribution of Drosophila to FRDA research since the characterization of the fly frataxin ortholog more than 15 years ago. Fly models have provided a comprehensive characterization of the defects associated with frataxin deficiency and have revealed genetic modifiers of disease phenotypes. In addition, these models are now being used in the search for potential therapeutic compounds for the treatment of this severe and still incurable disease.

Read the entire article HERE

Adding a temporal dimension to the study of Friedreich's ataxia: the effect of frataxin overexpression in a human cell model

The neurodegenerative disease Friedreich's ataxia is caused by lower than normal levels of frataxin, an important protein involved in iron sulphur cluster biogenesis. An important step in designing strategies to treat this disease is to understand whether increasing the frataxin levels by gene therapy would be tout-court beneficial or detrimental since previous studies, mostly based on animal models, have reported conflicting results. Here, we have exploited an inducible model, which we developed using the CRISPR/Cas9 methodology, to study the effects of frataxin overexpression in human cells and follow how the system recovers after overexpression. Using novel tools which range from high throughput microscopy to in cell infrared, we prove that overexpression of the frataxin gene affects the cellular metabolism. It also lead to a significant increase of oxidative stress and labile iron pool levels. These cellular alterations are similar to those observed when the gene is partially silenced, as it occurs in Friedreich's ataxia's patients. Our data suggest that the levels of frataxin must be tightly regulated and fine-tuned, any imbalance leading to oxidative stress and toxicity.

Read the entire article HERE

The importance of central auditory evaluation in Friedreich's ataxia

Objective To assess central auditory function in Friedreich's ataxia. Methods A cross-sectional, retrospective study was carried out. Thirty patients underwent the anamnesis, otorhinolaryngology examination, pure tone audiometry, acoustic immittance measures and brainstem auditory evoked potential (BAEP) assessments. Results The observed alterations were: 43.3% in the pure tone audiometry, bilateral in 36.7%; 56.6% in the BAEP test, bilateral in 50%; and 46.6% in the acoustic immittance test. There was a significant difference (p < 0.05) in the comparison between the tests performed. Conclusion In the audiological screening, there was a prevalence of the descending audiometric configuration at the frequency of 4kHz, and absence of the acoustic reflex at the same frequency. In the BAEP test, there was a prevalence of an increase of the latencies in waves I, III and V, and in the intervals of interpeaks I-III, I-V and III-V. In 13.3% of the patients, wave V was absent, and all waves were absent in 3.3% of patients.

Read the entire article HERE

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