Dorsal root ganglia, dorsal roots (DR), and dorsal root entry zones (DREZ) are vulnerable to frataxin deficiency in Friedreich ataxia (FA). A previously unrecognized abnormality is the intrusion of astroglial tissue into DR. Segments of upper lumbar spinal cord of 13 homozygous and 2 compound heterozygous FA patients were studied to look at structures in the DREZ. Normal DREZ showed short, sharply demarcated, dome-like extensions of CNS tissue into DR. The Schwann cell-related proteins formed tight caps around these domes. In FA, CNS tissue extended across DREZ and into DR over much longer distances by breaching the CNS-PNS barrier. The transition between PNS and CNS myelin proteins was disorganized. During development, neural-crest derived boundary cap cells provide guidance to dorsal root ganglia axons growing into the dorsal spinal cord and at the same time block the inappropriate intrusion of CNS glia into DR. It is likely that frataxin is required during a critical period of permissive (axons) and nonpermissive (astroglia) border-control.
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