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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.



Novel Nrf2-Inducer Prevents Mitochondrial Defects and Oxidative Stress in Friedreich's Ataxia Models

In Friedreich's Ataxia, increased oxidative stress leads to a chronic depletion of endogenous antioxidants, which affects the survival of the cells and causes neurodegeneration. In particular, cerebellar granule neurons (CGNs) show a significant increase of reactive oxygen species (ROS), lipid peroxidation and lower level of reduced glutathione (GSH). In FRDA, one of the major pathways of oxidant scavengers, the Nrf2 antioxidant pathway, is defective. Previous studies on FRDA-like CGNs showed that the reduced level of frataxin and the oxidative stress induce mitochondrial impairments. By triggering the Nrf2 pathway pharmacologically we determined whether this could promote mitochondrial fitness and counteract oxidative stress. In this work, we sought to investigate the beneficial effect of a promising Nrf2-inducer, omaveloxolone (omav), in CGNs from two FRDA mouse models, KIKO and YG8R, and human fibroblasts from patients. We found that CGNs from both KIKO and YG8R presented Complex I deficiency and that omav was able to restore substrate availability and Complex I activity. This was also confirmed in human primary fibroblasts from FRDA patients. Although fibroblasts are not the major tissue affected, we found that they show significant differences recapitulating the disease; this is therefore an important tool to investigate patients' pathophysiology. Interestingly, we found that patient fibroblasts had an increased level of endogenous lipid peroxidation and mitochondrial ROS (mROS), and lower GSH at rest. Omav was able to reverse this phenotype, protecting the cells against oxidative stress. By stimulating the cells with hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) and looking for potential mitochondrial pathophysiology, we found that fibroblasts could not maintain their mitochondrial membrane potential (ΔΨm). Remarkably, omav was protective to mitochondrial depolarization, promoting mitochondrial respiration and preventing cell death. Our results show that omav promotes Complex I activity and protect cells from oxidative stress. Omav could, therefore, be used as a novel therapeutic drug to ameliorate the pathophysiology of FRDA.

Read the entire article HERE

Longitudinal analysis of contrast acuity in Friedreich ataxia

In the Friedreich Ataxia-Clinical Outcome Measures Study, participants (n = 764) underwent binocular high- and low-contrast visual acuity testing at annual study visits. Mixed-effects linear regression was used to model visual acuity as a function of time, with random intercepts and slopes to account for intraindividual correlation of repeated measurements. A time-varying covariate was used to adjust for diabetes, and interaction terms were used to assess for effect modification by GAA repeat length, disease duration, and other variables.

Across a median of 4.4 years of follow-up, visual acuity decreased significantly at 100% contrast (-0.37 letters/y, 95% confidence interval [CI]: -0.52 to -0.21), 2.5% contrast (-0.81 letters/year, 95% CI: -0.99 to -0.65), and 1.25% contrast (-1.12 letters/y, 95% CI: -1.29 to -0.96 letters/year). There was a significant interaction between time and GAA repeat length such that the rate of decrease in visual acuity was greater for patients with higher GAA repeat lengths at 2.5% contrast (p = 0.018) and 1.25% contrast (p = 0.043) but not 100% contrast. There was no effect modification by age at onset after adjusting for GAA repeat length.

Low-contrast visual acuity decreases linearly over time in Friedreich ataxia, and the rate of decrease is greater at higher GAA repeat lengths. Contrast sensitivity has the potential to serve as a biomarker and surrogate outcome in future studies of Friedreich ataxia.

Read the entire article HERE

RNA-Dependent Epigenetic Silencing Directs Transcriptional Downregulation Caused by Intronic Repeat Expansions

Transcriptional downregulation caused by intronic triplet repeat expansions underlies diseases such as Friedreich's ataxia. This downregulation of gene expression is coupled with epigenetic changes, but the underlying mechanisms are unknown. Here, we show that an intronic GAA/TTC triplet expansion within the IIL1 gene of Arabidopsis thaliana results in accumulation of 24-nucleotide short interfering RNAs (siRNAs) and repressive histone marks at the IIL1 locus, which in turn causes its transcriptional downregulation and an associated phenotype. Knocking down DICER LIKE-3 (DCL3), which produces 24-nucleotide siRNAs, suppressed transcriptional downregulation of IIL1 and the triplet expansion-associated phenotype. Furthermore, knocking down additional components of the RNA-dependent DNA methylation (RdDM) pathway also suppressed both transcriptional downregulation of IIL1 and the repeat expansion-associated phenotype. Thus, our results show that triplet repeat expansions can lead to local siRNA biogenesis, which in turn downregulates transcription through an RdDM-dependent epigenetic modification.

Read the entire article HERE

Zinc(II) binding on human wild-type ISCU and Met140 variants modulates NFS1 desulfurase activity

Human de novo iron-sulfur (Fe-S) assembly complex consists of cysteine desulfurase NFS1, accessory protein ISD11, acyl carrier protein ACP, scaffold protein ISCU, and allosteric activator frataxin (FXN). FXN binds the NFS1-ISD11-ACP-ISCU complex (SDAU), to activate the desulfurase activity and Fe-S cluster biosynthesis. In the absence of FXN, the NFS1-ISD11-ACP (SDA) complex was reportedly inhibited by binding of recombinant ISCU. Recent studies also reported a substitution at position Met141 on the yeast ISCU orthologue Isu, to Ile, Leu, Val, or Cys, could bypass the requirement of FXN for Fe-S cluster biosynthesis and cell viability. Here, we show that recombinant human ISCU binds zinc(II) ion, as previously demonstrated with the E. coli orthologue IscU. Surprisingly, the relative proportion between zinc-bound and zinc-depleted forms varies among purification batches. Importantly the presence of zinc in ISCU impacts SDAU desulfurase activity. Indeed, removal of zinc(II) ion from ISCU causes a moderate but significant increase in activity compared to SDA alone, and FXN can activate both zinc-depleted and zinc-bound forms of ISCU complexed to SDA. Taking into consideration the inhibition of desulfurase activity by zinc-bound ISCU, we characterized wild type ISCU and the M140I, M140L, and M140V variants under both zinc-bound and zinc-depleted conditions, and did not observe significant differences in the biochemical and biophysical properties between wild-type and variants. Importantly, in the absence of FXN, ISCU variants behaved like wild-type and did not stimulate the desulfurase activity of the SDA complex. This study therefore identifies an important regulatory role for zinc-bound ISCU in modulation of the human Fe-S assembly system in vitro and reports no 'FXN bypass' effect on mutations at position Met140 in human ISCU. Furthermore, this study also calls for caution in interpreting studies involving recombinant ISCU by taking into consideration the influence of the bound zinc(II) ion on SDAU complex activity.

Read the entire article HERE

PTC Therapeutics to acquire Agilis Biotherapeutics

FARA is pleased to share news that one of our gene therapy partners, Agilis Biotherapeutics, has been acquired by PTC Therapeutics. PTC Therapeutics will bring expertise in rare disease drug development and additional resources to advance the work that Agilis has initiated in FA gene therapy. We are looking forward working with PTC Therapeutics to accelerate this important FA program.

Read the entire article HERE

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