Friedreich's ataxia (FA) is an autosomal recessive neurodegenerative disorder, which results primarily from reduced expression of the mitochondrial protein frataxin. FA has an estimated prevalence of one in 50,000 in the population, making it the most common hereditary ataxia. Paradoxically, mortality arises most frequently from cardiomyopathy and cardiac failure rather than from neurological effects. Decreased high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and apolipoprotein A-I (ApoA-l) levels in the general population are associated with an increased risk of mortality from cardiomyopathy and heart failure. However, the pathophysiology of heart disease in FA is non-vascular and there are conflicting data on HDL-cholesterol in FA. Two studies have shown a decrease in HDL-cholesterol compared with controls and two have shown there was no difference between FA and controls. One also showed that there was no difference in serum Apo-A-I levels in FA when compared with controls. Using a highly specific stable isotope dilution mass spectrometry-based assay, we demonstrated a 21.6% decrease in serum ApoA-I in FA patients (134.8 mg/dL, n = 95) compared with non-affected controls (172.1 mg/dL, n = 95). This is similar to the difference in serum ApoA-I levels between non-smokers and tobacco smokers. Knockdown of frataxin by > 70% in human hepatoma HepG2 cells caused a 20% reduction in secreted ApoA-I. Simvastatin, a 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl-coenzyme A (HMG-CoA) reductase inhibitor caused a 200% increase in HMG-CoA in the control HepG2 cells with a similar increase in the frataxin knockdown HepG2 cells, back to levels found in the control cells. There was a concomitant 20% increase in secreted ApoA-I to levels found in the control cells that were treated with simvastatin. This study provides compelling evidence that ApoA-I levels are reduced in FA patients compared with controls and suggest that statin treatment would normalize the ApoA-I levels.
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