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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.


Central Nervous System Therapeutic Targets in Friedreich Ataxia

Friedreich ataxia (FRDA) is an autosomal recessive inherited multisystem disease, characterized by marked differences in the vulnerability of neuronal systems. In general, the proprioceptive system appears to be affected early, while later in the disease the dentate nucleus of the cerebellum and, to some degree, the corticospinal tracts degenerate. In the current era of expanding therapeutic discovery in FRDA, including progress towards novel gene therapies, a deeper and more specific consideration of potential treatment targets in the nervous system is necessary. In the present work, we have re-examined the neuropathology of FRDA, recognizing new issues superimposed on classical findings and dissected the peripheral nervous system (PNS) and central nervous system (CNS) aspects of the disease and the affected cell types. Understanding the temporal course of neuropathological changes is needed to identify areas of modifiable disease progression and the CNS and PNS locations that can be targeted at different timepoints. As most major targets of long-term therapy are in the CNS, the present review uses multiple tools for evaluation of the importance of specific CNS locations as targets. In addition to clinical observations, the conceptualizations here include physiological, pathological and imaging approaches, and animal models. This review, through analysis of a more complete set of data derived from multiple techniques, provides a comprehensive summary of therapeutic targets in FRDA.

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High Levels of Frataxin Overexpression Lead to Mitochondrial and Cardiac Toxicity in Mouse Models

Cardiac dysfunction is the main cause of premature death in Friedreich ataxia (FA). Adeno-associated virus (AAV)-mediated gene therapy constitutes a promising approach for FA, as demonstrated in cardiac and neurological mouse models. While the minimal therapeutic level of FXN protein to be restored and biodistribution have recently been defined for the heart, it is unclear if FXN overexpression could be harmful. Indeed, depending on the vector delivery route and dose administered, the resulting FXN protein level could reach very high levels in the heart, cerebellum, or off-target organs such as the liver. The present study demonstrates safety of FXN cardiac overexpression up to 9-fold the normal endogenous level but significant toxicity to the mitochondria and heart above 20-fold. The authors show gradual severity with increasing FXN overexpression, ranging from subclinical cardiotoxicity to left ventricle dysfunction. This appears to be driven by impairment of the mitochondria respiratory chain and ultrastructure, which leads to cardiomyocyte subcellular disorganization, cell death, and fibrosis. Overall, this study underlines the need, during the development of gene therapy approaches, to consider appropriate vector expression level, long-term safety, and biomarkers to monitor such events.

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The Nrf2 induction prevents ferroptosis in Friedreich's Ataxia

Ferroptosis is an iron-dependent cell death caused by impaired glutathione metabolism, lipid peroxidation and mitochondrial failure. Emerging evidences report a role for ferroptosis in Friedreich's Ataxia (FRDA), a neurodegenerative disease caused by the decreased expression of the mitochondrial protein frataxin. Nrf2 signalling is implicated in many molecular aspects of ferroptosis, by upstream regulating glutathione homeostasis, mitochondrial function and lipid metabolism. As Nrf2 is down-regulated in FRDA, targeting Nrf2-mediated ferroptosis in FRDA may be an attractive option to counteract neurodegeneration in such disease, thus paving the way to new therapeutic opportunities. In this study, the authors evaluated ferroptosis hallmarks in frataxin-silenced mouse myoblasts, in hearts of a frataxin Knockin/Knockout (KIKO) mouse model, in skin fibroblasts and blood of patients, particularly focusing on ferroptosis-driven gene expression, mitochondrial impairment and lipid peroxidation. The efficacy of Nrf2 inducers to neutralize ferroptosis has been also evaluated.

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Antiferroptotic Activity of Phenothiazine Analogues: A Novel Therapeutic Strategy for Oxidative Stress Related Disease

Ferroptosis is an iron-catalyzed, nonapoptotic form of regulated necrosis that has been implicated in the pathological cell death associated with various disorders including neurodegenerative diseases (e.g., Friedreich's ataxia (FRDA), Alzheimer's disease, and Parkinson's disease), stroke, and traumatic brain injury. Recently, the authors showed that lipophilic methylene blue (MB) and methylene violet (MV) analogues both promoted increased frataxin levels and mitochondrial biogenesis, in addition to their antioxidant activity in cultured FRDA cells. This study reports the synthesis of series of lipophilic phenothiazine analogues that potently inhibit ferroptosis. The most promising compounds (1b-5b) exhibited an improved protection compared to the parent phenothiazine against erastin- and RSL3-induced ferroptotic cell death. These analogues have equivalent or better potency than ferrostatin-1 (Fer-1) and liproxstatin-1 (Lip-1), that are among the most potent inhibitors of this regulated cell death described so far. They represent novel lead compounds with therapeutic potential in relevant ferroptosis-driven disease models such as FRDA.

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Ferroptosis in Friedreich's Ataxia: A Metal-Induced Neurodegenerative Disease

Ferroptosis is an iron-dependent form of regulated cell death, arising from the accumulation of lipid-based reactive oxygen species when glutathione-dependent repair systems are compromised. Lipid peroxidation, mitochondrial impairment and iron dyshomeostasis are the hallmark of ferroptosis, which is emerging as a crucial player in neurodegeneration. This review provides an analysis of the most recent advances in ferroptosis, with a special focus on Friedreich's Ataxia (FA), the most common autosomal recessive neurodegenerative disease, caused by reduced levels of frataxin, a mitochondrial protein involved in iron-sulfur cluster synthesis and antioxidant defenses. The hypothesis is that the iron-induced oxidative damage accumulates over time in FA, lowering the ferroptosis threshold and leading to neuronal cell death and, at last, to cardiac failure. The use of anti-ferroptosis drugs combined with treatments able to activate the antioxidant response will be of paramount importance in FA therapy, such as in many other neurodegenerative diseases triggered by oxidative stress.

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