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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.



Automated functional upper limb evaluation of patients with Friedreich ataxia using serious games rehabilitation exercises

Friedreich ataxia (FRDA) is a disease with neurological and systemic involvement. Clinical assessment tools commonly used for FRDA become less effective in evaluating decay in patients with advanced FRDA, particularly when they are in a wheelchair. Further motor worsening mainly impairs upper limb function. In this study, we tested if serious games (SG) developed for rehabilitation can be used as an assessment tool for upper limb function even in patients with advanced FRDA.

A specific SG has been developed for physical rehabilitation of patients suffering from neurologic diseases. The use of this SG, coupled with Kinect sensor, has been validated to perform functional evaluation of the upper limbs with healthy subjects across lifespan. Twenty-seven FRDA patients were included in the study. Patients were invited to perform upper limb rehabilitation exercises embedded in SG. Motions were recorded by the Kinect and clinically relevant parameters were extracted from the collected motions. We tested if the existence of correlations between the scores from the serious games and the severity of the disease using clinical assessment tools commonly used for FRDA. Results of patients were compared with a group a healthy subjects of similar age.

Very highly significant differences were found for time required to perform the exercise (increase of 76%, t(68) = 7.22, P < 0.001) and for accuracy (decrease of 6%, t(68) = - 3.69, P < 0.001) between patients and healthy subjects. Concerning the patients significant correlations were found between age and time (R = 0.65, p = 0.015), accuracy (R = - 0.75, p = 0.004) and the total displacement of upper limbs. (R = 0.55, p = 0.031). Statistically significant correlations were found between the age of diagnosis and speed related parameters.

The results of this study indicate that SG reliably captures motor impairment of FRDA patients due to cerebellar and pyramidal involvement. Results also show that functional evaluation of FRDA patients can be performed during rehabilitation therapy embedded in games with the patient seated in a wheelchair.

The study was approved as a component of the EFACTS study ( identifier NCT02069509 , registered May 2010) by the local institutional Ethics Committee (ref. P2010/132).

Read the entire article HERE

Iron in Friedreich Ataxia: A Central Role in the Pathophysiology or an Epiphenomenon

Friedreich ataxia is a neurodegenerative disease with an autosomal recessive inheritance. In most patients, the disease is caused by the presence of trinucleotide GAA expansions in the first intron of the frataxin gene. These expansions cause the decreased expression of this mitochondrial protein. Many evidences indicate that frataxin deficiency causes the deregulation of cellular iron homeostasis. In this review, we will discuss several hypotheses proposed for frataxin function, their caveats, and how they could provide an explanation for the deregulation of iron homeostasis found in frataxin-deficient cells. We will also focus on the potential mechanisms causing cellular dysfunction in Friedreich Ataxia and on the potential use of the iron chelator deferiprone as a therapeutic agent for this disease.

Read the entire article HERE

Functional and Structural Brain Damage in Friedreich's Ataxia

Friedreich's ataxia (FRDA) is a rare hereditary neurodegenerative disorder caused by a GAA repeat expansion in the FXN gene. There is still no cure or quantitative biomarkers reliaby correlating with the progression rate and disease severity. Investigation of functional and structural alterations characterizing white (WM) and gray matter (GM) in FRDA are needed prerequisite to monitor progression and response to treatment. Here the authors report the results of a multimodal cross-sectional MRI study of FRDA including Voxel-Based Morphometry (VBM), diffusion-tensor imaging (DTI), functional MRI (fMRI), and a correlation analysis with clinical severity scores. Twenty-one early-onset FRDA patients and 18 age-matched healthy controls (HCs) were imaged at 3T. All patients underwent a complete cognitive and clinical assessment with ataxia scales. VBM analysis showed GM volume reduction in FRDA compared to HCs bilaterally in lobules V, VI, VIII (L>R), as well as in the crus of cerebellum, posterior lobe of the vermis, in the flocculi and in the left tonsil. Voxel-wise DTI analysis showed a diffuse fractional anisotropy reduction and mean, radial, axial (AD) diffusivity increase in both infratentorial and supratentorial WM. ROI-based analysis confirmed the results showing differences of the same DTI metrics in cortico-spinal-tracts, forceps major, corpus callosum, posterior thalamic radiations, cerebellar penduncles. Additionally, we observed increased AD in superior (SCP) and middle cerebellar peduncles. The WM findings correlated with age at onset (AAO), short-allelle GAA, and disease severity. The intragroup analysis of fMRI data from right-handed 14 FRDA and 15 HCs showed similar findings in both groups, including activation in M1, insula and superior cerebellar hemisphere (lobules V-VIII). Significant differences emerged only during the non-dominant hand movement, with HCs showing a stronger activation in the left superior cerebellar hemisphere compared to FRDA. Significant correlations were found between AAO and the fMRI activation in cerebellar anterior and posterior lobes, insula and temporal lobe. This multimodal neuroimaging protocol suggests that MRI is a useful tool to document the extension of the neurological impairment in FRDA.

Read the entire article HERE

Chemical synthesis of lipophilic methylene blue analogues which increase mitochondrial biogenesis and frataxin levels

As part of an ongoing program to develop potential therapeutic agents for the treatment of the neurodegenerative disease Friedreich׳s ataxia (FRDA), this group has prepared a number of lipophilic methylene blue analogues. Some of these compounds significantly increase mitochondrial biogenesis and frataxin levels in cultured Friedreich's ataxia cells . This data article describes the chemical synthesis and full physicochemical characterization of the new analogues.

Read the entire article HERE

Sudomotor dysfunction is frequent and correlates with disability in Friedreich ataxia

This study set out to evaluate autonomic symptoms and function in Friedreich's Ataxia (FRDA).Twenty-eight FRDA patients and 24 controls underwent clinical/electrophysiological testing. They used the Friedreich's Ataxia Rating Scale (FARS) and the Scales for Outcomes in Parkinson's Disease: Autonomic Questionnaire-SCOPA-AUT to estimate the intensity of ataxia and autonomic complaints, respectively. Cardiovagal tests and the quantitative sudomotor axonal reflex, Q-SART, were then assessed in both groups. In the patient group, there were 11 men with mean age of 31.5 ± 11.1 years. Mean SCOPA-AUT score was 15.1 ± 8.1. Minimum RR interval at rest was shorter in the FRDA group (Median 831.3 × 724.0 ms, p < 0.001). The 30:15 ratio, Valsalva index, E:I ratio, low and high frequency power presented no differences between patients and controls (p > 0.05). Sweat responses were significantly reduced in patients for all sites tested (forearm 0.389 × 1.309 µL; proximal leg 0.406 × 1.107 µL; distal leg 0.491 × 1.232 µL; foot 0.265 × 0.708 µL; p value < 0.05). Sweat volumes correlated with FARS scores. Overall, they found abnormal sudomotor but normal heart rate variability in FRDA. Small cholinergic post-ganglionic fibers were affected in the disease. They conclude that quantification of sudomotor function might be a biomarker for FRDA.

Read the entire article HERE

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