Friedreich ataxia (FRDA) is an autosomal recessive neurodegenerative disease caused in almost all cases by homozygosity for a GAA trinucleotide repeat expansion in the frataxin gene. Frataxin is a mitochondrial protein involved in iron homeostasis. FRDA patients have a high prevalence of diabetes, the pathogenesis of which is not known. We aimed to evaluate the relative contribution of insulin resistance and β-cell failure and the pathogenic mechanisms involved in FRDA diabetes.
Forty-one FRDA patients, 26 heterozygous carriers of a GAA expansion, and 53 controls underwent oral and intravenous glucose tolerance tests. β-Cell proportion was quantified in postmortem pancreas sections from 9 unrelated FRDA patients. Using an in vitro disease model, we studied how frataxin deficiency affects β-cell function and survival.