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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.



Young Investigators, Call for Abstracts for the 11th Annual Friedreich's Ataxia Symposium

Young investigators are invited to present posters at the 11th Annual Friedreich’s Ataxia Symposium hosted by The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and FARA at a welcome reception on the evening of Sunday, October 14, and throughout the day on Monday, October 15, 2018 at the Crowne Plaza Valley Forge in King of Prussia, PA. This symposium presents an opportunity to share your work not only with colleagues but also with the patient community. Priority will be given to those who can best present to a lay audience. Deadline for submissions: August 8th, 2018.

         FA Symposium Call for Abstracts 2018 (pdf)

         2018 FA Symposium Abstract Submission Form (docx)

Impact of Drosophila Models in the Study and Treatment of Friedreich's Ataxia

Drosophila melanogaster has been for over a century the model of choice of several neurobiologists to decipher the formation and development of the nervous system as well as to mirror the pathophysiological conditions of many human neurodegenerative diseases. The rare disease Friedreich's ataxia (FRDA) is not an exception. Since the isolation of the responsible gene more than two decades ago, the analysis of the fly orthologue has proven to be an excellent avenue to understand the development and progression of the disease, to unravel pivotal mechanisms underpinning the pathology and to identify genes and molecules that might well be either disease biomarkers or promising targets for therapeutic interventions. In this review, we aim to summarize the collection of findings provided by the Drosophila models, but also to go one step beyond and propose the implications of these discoveries for the study and cure of this disorder. We will present the physiological, cellular and molecular phenotypes described in the fly, highlighting those that have given insight into the pathology and we will show how the ability of Drosophila to perform genetic and pharmacological screens has provided valuable information that is not easily within reach of other cellular or mammalian models.

Read the entire article HERE

Autonomic function testing in Friedreich's ataxia

Friedreich ataxia (FRDA) is an inherited movement disorder which manifests with progressive gait instability, sensory loss and cardiomyopathy. Peripheral neuropathy is an established feature of FRDA. At neuropathological examination, a depletion of large, myelinated axons is evident, but also unmyelinated fibers are affected which may result in a variety of sensory and autonomic signs and symptoms. Impaired temperature perception, vasomotor disturbances of lower extremities and a high prevalence of urinary symptoms have been documented in FRDA, but data from autonomic function testing in genetically confirmed cases are lacking.

Genetically confirmed FRDAs were recruited in an outpatient setting. In a screening visit, general and neurological examination, laboratory testing, ECG and echocardiography were performed. Autonomic functions were evaluated by means of systematic questionnaires (SCOPA-Aut, OHQ), skin sympathetic reflex and cardiovascular autonomic function testing (CAFT). For the latter, a comparison with matched healthy controls was performed.

20 patients were recruited and 13 underwent CAFT. Symptoms referred to multiple autonomic domains, particularly bladder function, thermoregulation and sweating were reported. SCOPA-Aut scores were significantly predicted by disease severity. At CAFT, FRDAs did not differ from controls except for increased heart rate at rest and during orthostatic challenge. Two patients had non-neurogenic orthostatic hypotension (14%). Skin sympathetic responses were pathologic in 3 out of 10 patients (of whom 2 aged > 50).

FRDA patients may experience several autonomic symptoms and overall their burden correlates with disease severity. Nonetheless, clinical testing shows no major involvement of sudomotor and cardiovascular autonomic function.

Read the entire article HERE

Structural characteristics of the central nervous system in Friedreich ataxia: an in vivo spinal cord and brain MRI study

Friedreich ataxia (FRDA) is a spinocerebellar neurodegenerative disorder and the most common autosomal recessive ataxia, mainly caused by GAA-triplet expansions in the FXN gene. This severely debilitating disease usually manifests around adolescence with a slowly progressive phenotype of spinocerebellar signs, areflexia, sensory neuropathy, pyramidal signs and non-neurological features.

Neuropathological studies described reductions of dorsal root ganglia, the spinal cord at all levels and dentate nuclei.1 In vivo MRI approaches confirmed spinal cord alterations in FRDA, which were however focused on upper cervical cord areas,2 while quantitative measurements along the entire spinal cord length are lacking. We therefore aimed to investigate the morphometric pattern of the cervical and thoracic spinal cord in FRDA. In order to provide a more comprehensive picture of spinocerebellar-cerebral alterations, we additionally analysed anatomical brain MRI data and investigated the relative contribution of spinal and brain measurements for the prediction of clinical severity in FRDA.

Read the entire article HERE

Cognitive and functional connectivity alterations in Friedreich's ataxia

The aim of this study was to perform the first resting-state functional MRI (RS-fMRI) analysis in Friedreich's ataxia (FRDA) patients to assess possible brain functional connectivity (FC) differences in these patients, and test their correlations with neuropsychological performances. 24 FRDA patients (M/F: 15/9, mean age 31.3 ± 15.0) and 24 healthy controls (HC; M/F: 15/9, mean age 30.7 ± 15.5) were enrolled in this cross-sectional study. All patients underwent a thorough neuropsychological battery, investigating different cognitive domains. RS-fMRI data were analyzed, probing the FC of cortical areas potentially referable to specific executive and cognitive functions compromised in FRDA. Compared to HC, FRDA patients showed overall worse neuropsychological scores in several domains. Analysis of RS-fMRI data showed a higher FC in FRDA patients compared to HC in certain brain regions, and a reduced FC in other regions. The authors conclude that there may be a compensatory phenomenon in connectivity between different brain regions. These results, in conjunction with clinical findings, may shed new light on the pattern of involvement of different parts of the brain, and on dynamics of brain plasticity in this disease.

Read the entire article HERE

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