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Drug repositioning screening identifies etravirine as a potential therapeutic for friedreich's ataxia

Given that levels of residual frataxin critically affect disease severity, the main goal of a specific therapy for Friedreich's ataxia is to increase frataxin levels. With the aim to accelerate the development of a new therapy for Friedreich's ataxia, this group took a drug repositioning approach to identify market-available drugs able to increase frataxin levels. Using a cell-based reporter assay to monitor variation in frataxin amount, they performed high-throughput screening of a library containing 853 U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs. Among the potentially interesting candidates isolated from the screening, they focused their attention on etravirine, an antiviral drug currently in use as an anti-human immunodeficiency virus therapy. In this paper, they show that etravirine can promote a significant increase in frataxin levels in cells derived from Friedreich's ataxia patients, by enhancing frataxin messenger RNA translation. Importantly, frataxin accumulation in treated patient cell lines is comparable to frataxin levels in unaffected carrier cells, suggesting that etravirine could be therapeutically relevant. Indeed, etravirine treatment restores the activity of the iron-sulphur cluster containing enzyme aconitase and confers resistance to oxidative stress in cells derived from Friedreich's ataxia patients. Considering its safety profile along with its ability to increase frataxin levels and correct some of the disease-related defects, etravirine represents a promising candidate as a therapeutic for Friedreich's ataxia.

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Jane Larkindale

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