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FARA Funded Research

Your generous support has funded all the research listed below.


For more information on FARA-funded research & scientists, please visit FARA Supported Research, Active Clinical Trials and the Featured Scientist.

Drp1-dependent peptide reverse mitochondrial fragmentation, a homeostatic response in Friedreich ataxia

Mitochondria alter their morphology in response to various stresses; however, such alterations to morphology may be homeostatic or maladaptive depending upon the tissue and disease state. Numerous neurodegenerative diseases exhibit excessive mitochondrial fragmentation, and reversing this phenotype improves bioenergetics for diseases in which mitochondrial dysfunction is a secondary feature of the disease. This paper demonstrates that frataxin deficiency causes excessive mitochondrial fragmentation that is dependent upon Drp1 activity in Friedreich ataxia cellular models. Drp1 inhibition by the small peptide TAT-P110 reverses mitochondrial fragmentation but also decreases ATP levels in frataxin-knockdown fibroblasts and FRDA patient fibroblasts, suggesting that fragmentation may provide a homeostatic pathway for maintaining cellular ATP levels. The cardiolipin-stabilizing compound SS-31 similarly reverses fragmentation through a Drp1-dependent mechanism, but it does not affect ATP levels. The combination of TAT-P110 and SS-31 does not affect FRDA patient fibroblasts differently from SS-31 alone, suggesting that the two drugs act through the same pathway but differ in their ability to alter mitochondrial homeostasis. In approaching potential therapeutic strategies for FRDA, an important criterion for compounds that improve bioenergetics should be to do so without impairing the homeostatic response of mitochondrial fragmentation.

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Scoliosis in Friedreich's ataxia: longitudinal characterization in a large heterogeneous cohort

The objective of this study was to characterize the incidence and progression of scoliosis in the natural history of Friedreich's ataxia (FRDA) and document the factors leading to the requirement for corrective surgery. Data on the prevalence of scoliosis and scoliosis surgery from up to 17 years of follow-up collected during a large natural history study in FRDA (1116 patients at 4928 visits) were summarized descriptively and subjected to time to event analyses. Well over 90% of early or typical FRDA patients (as determined by age of onset) developed intermediate to severe scoliosis, while patients with a later onset (>14 years) had no or much lower prevalence of scoliosis. Diagnosis of scoliosis occurs during the onset of ataxia and in rare cases even prior to that. Major progression follows throughout the growth phase and puberty, leading to the need for surgical intervention in more than 50% of individuals in the most severe subgroup. The youngest patients appear to delay surgery until the end of the growth period, leading to further progression before surgical intervention. Age of onset of FRDA before or after reaching 15 years sharply separated severe and relatively mild incidence and progression of scoliosis. Scoliosis is an important comorbidity of FRDA. This comprehensive documentation of scoliosis progression in this natural history study provides a baseline for comparison as novel treatments become available.

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Frataxin deficiency promotes endothelial senescence in pulmonary hypertension

The dynamic regulation of endothelial pathophenotypes in pulmonary hypertension (PH) remains undefined. Cellular senescence is linked to PH with intracardiac shunts; however, its regulation across PH subtypes is unknown. Since endothelial deficiency of iron-sulfur (Fe-S) clusters is pathogenic in PH, the authors hypothesized that a Fe-S biogenesis protein, frataxin (FXN), controls endothelial senescence. An endothelial subpopulation in rodent and patient lungs across PH subtypes exhibited reduced FXN and elevated senescence. In vitro, hypoxic and inflammatory FXN deficiency abrogated activity of endothelial Fe-S-containing polymerases, promoting replication stress, DNA damage response, and senescence. This was also observed in stem cell-derived endothelial cells from Friedreich's ataxia (FRDA), a genetic disease of FXN deficiency, ataxia, and cardiomyopathy, often with PH. In vivo, FXN deficiency-dependent senescence drove vessel inflammation, remodeling, and PH, while pharmacologic removal of senescent cells in Fxn-deficient rodents ameliorated PH. These data offer a model of endothelial biology in PH, where FXN deficiency generates a senescent endothelial subpopulation, promoting vascular inflammatory and proliferative signals in other cells to drive disease. These findings also establish an endothelial etiology for PH in FRDA and left heart disease and support therapeutic development of senolytic drugs, reversing effects of Fe-S deficiency across PH subtypes.

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Quantitative assessment of Friedreich Ataxia via self-drinking activity

Effective monitoring of the progression of neurodegenerative conditions can be significantly improved by objective assessments. Clinical assessments of conditions such as Friedreich's Ataxia (FA), currently rely on subjective measures commonly practiced in clinics as well as the ability of the affected individual to perform conventional tests of the neurological examination. In this study, the authors propose an ataxia measuring device, in the form of a pressure canister capable of sensing certain kinetic and kinematic parameters of interest to quantify the impairment levels of participants particularly when engaged in an activity that is closely associated with daily living. In particular, the functional task of simulated drinking was utilized to capture characteristic features of disability manifestation in terms of diagnosis (separation of individuals with FA and controls) and severity assessment of individuals diagnosed with the debilitating condition of FA. Time and frequency domain analysis of these biomarkers enabled the classification of individuals with FA and control subjects to reach an accuracy of 98\% and a correlation level reaching 96\% with the clinical scores.

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Somatic CAG expansion in Huntington's disease is dependent on the MLH3 endonuclease domain, which can be excluded via splice redirection

Somatic expansion of the CAG repeat tract that causes Huntington's disease (HD) is thought to contribute to the rate of disease pathogenesis. Therefore, factors influencing repeat expansion are potential therapeutic targets. Genes in the DNA mismatch repair pathway are critical drivers of somatic expansion in HD mouse models. Here, the authors have tested, using genetic and pharmacological approaches, the role of the endonuclease domain of the mismatch repair protein MLH3 in somatic CAG expansion in HD mice and patient cells. A point mutation in the MLH3 endonuclease domain completely eliminated CAG expansion in the brain and peripheral tissues of a HD knock-in mouse model (HttQ111). To test whether the MLH3 endonuclease could be manipulated pharmacologically, the investigators delivered splice switching oligonucleotides in mice to redirect Mlh3 splicing to exclude the endonuclease domain. Splice redirection to an isoform lacking the endonuclease domain was associated with reduced CAG expansion. Finally, CAG expansion in HD patient-derived primary fibroblasts was also significantly reduced by redirecting MLH3 splicing to the endogenous endonuclease domain-lacking isoform. These data indicate the potential of targeting the MLH3 endonuclease domain to slow somatic CAG repeat expansion in HD, a therapeutic strategy that may be applicable across multiple repeat expansion disorders.

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