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Neuroinflammation in the Cerebellum and Brainstem in Friedreich Ataxia: An [18 F]-FEMPA PET Study

Neuroinflammation is proposed to accompany, or even contribute to, neuropathology in Friedreich ataxia (FRDA), with implications for disease treatment and tracking. The purpose of this study was to examine brain glial activation and systemic immune dysfunction in people with FRDA and quantify their relationship with symptom severity, duration, and onset age. Fifteen individuals with FRDA and 13 healthy controls underwent brain positron emission tomography using the translocator protein (TSPO) radioligand [18 F]-FEMPA, a marker of glial activation, together with the quantification of blood plasma inflammatory cytokines. [18 F]-FEMPA binding was significantly increased in the dentate nuclei (d = 0.67), superior cerebellar peduncles (d = 0.74), and midbrain (d = 0.87), alongside increased plasma interleukin-6 (IL-6) (d = 0.73), in individuals with FRDA compared to controls. Increased [18 F]-FEMPA binding in the dentate nuclei, brainstem, and cerebellar anterior lobe correlated with earlier age of symptom onset (controlling for the genetic triplet repeat expansion length; all rpart < -0.6), and in the pons and anterior lobe with shorter disease duration (r = -0.66; -0.73). Neuroinflammation is evident in brain regions implicated in FRDA neuropathology. Increased neuroimmune activity may be related to earlier disease onset and attenuate over the course of the illness.

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