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A Drosophila model of Friedreich Ataxia with CRISPR/Cas9 insertion of GAA repeats in the frataxin gene reveals in vivo protection by N-acetyl cysteine

Thanks to the high degree of frataxin conservation, the Drosophila melanogaster fruitfly appears as an adequate animal model to study Friedreich Ataxia (FA) and to evaluate therapeutic interventions. The authors generated a Drosophila model of FA with CRISPR/Cas9 insertion of approximately 200 GAA in the intron of the fly frataxin gene fh. These flies exhibit a developmental delay and lethality associated with decreased frataxin expression. Preadult lethality was by-passed using genetic tools to overexpress frataxin only during the developmental period. These frataxin-deficient adults are short-lived and present strong locomotor defects. RNA-Seq analysis identified deregulation of genes involved in amino-acid metabolism and transcriptomic signatures of oxidative stress. In particular, this group observed a progressive increase of Tspo expression, fully rescued by adult frataxin expression. Thus, Tspo expression constitutes a molecular marker of the disease progression in this fly model and might be of interest in other animal models or in patients. Finally, in a candidate drug screening, it was observed that N-acetyl cysteine improved the survival, locomotor function, resistance to oxidative stress and aconitase activity of frataxin-deficient flies. Therefore, this model provides the opportunity to elucidate in vivo the protective mechanisms of this molecule of therapeutic potential. This study also highlights the strength of the CRISPR/Cas9 technology to introduce human mutations in endogenous orthologous genes, leading to Drosophila models of human diseases with improved physiological relevance.

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