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Scientific News

FARA funds research progress

In this section, you will find the most recent FA research publications, many of which are funded by FARA, as well as information on upcoming conferences and symposiums. You can search for articles by date using the archive box in the right hand column. To locate FARA Funded or Supported Research, click the hyperlink in the right hand column. You may also search for specific content using key words or phrases in the search button at the top right of your screen. Please be sure to visit other key research sections of our website for information on FARA’s Grant Program and the Treatment Pipeline.


Synthesis of 5-[(1H-indol-3-yl)methyl]-1,3,4-oxadiazole-2(3H)-thiones and their protective activity against oxidative stress

A small library of 2-[(1H-indol-3-yl)methyl]-5-(alkylthio)-1,3,4-oxadiazoles was prepared, starting from indole-3-acetic acid methyl ester and its 5-methyl-substituted derivative. The synthetic route involved the formation of intermediate hydrazides, their condensation with carbon disulfide, and intramolecular cyclization to corresponding 5-[(1H-indol-3-yl)methyl]-1,3,4-oxadiazole-2(3H)-thiones. The latter were then S-alkylated, and in case of ester derivatives, they were further hydrolyzed into corresponding carboxylic acids. All 5-[(1H-indol-3-yl)methyl]-1,3,4-oxadiazole-2(3H)-thiones and their S-alkylated derivatives were then screened for their protective effects in vitro and in vivo. Methyl substitution on the indole ring and propyl, butyl, or benzyl substitution on sulfhydryl group-possessing compounds were revealed to protect Friedreich's ataxia fibroblasts against the effects of glutathione depletion induced by the γ-glutamylcysteine synthetase inhibitor, buthionine sulfoximine. Two of the active compounds also reproducibly increased the survival of Caenorhabditis elegans exposed to juglone-induced oxidative stress.

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Nuclear Factor Erythroid 2-Related Factor 2 Activation Might Mitigate Clinical Symptoms in Friedreich's Ataxia: Clues of an "Out-Brain Origin" of the Disease From a Family Study

This group has previously described a family displaying two expanded GAA alleles not only in the proband affected by late-onset FRDA but also in the two asymptomatic family members: the mother and the younger sister. Both of them showed a significant reduction of frataxin levels, without any disease manifestation. This study analyzed if a protective mechanism might contribute to modulate the phenotype in this family. The authors focused on the transcription factor nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2 (NRF2), the first line of antioxidant defense in cells, and on the glutathione (GSH) system, an index of reactive oxygen species (ROS) detoxification ability. The findings show a great reactivity of the GSH system to the frataxin deficiency, particularly in the asymptomatic mother, where the genes of GSH synthesis [glutamate-cysteine ligase (GCL)] and GSSG detoxification [GSH S-reductase (GSR)] were highly responsive. The GSR was activated even in the asymptomatic sister and in the proband, reflecting the need of buffering the GSSG increase. Furthermore, and contrasting the NRF2 expression documented in FRDA tissues, NRF2 was highly activated in the mother and in the younger sister, while it was constitutively low in the proband. This suggests that, despite frataxin depletion, the endogenous stimulation of NRF2 in asymptomatic FRDA subjects may contribute to protect against the progressive oxidative damage, helping to prevent the onset of neurological symptoms and highlighting an "out-brain origin" of the disease.

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Systematic Review: Quantitative Susceptibility Mapping (QSM) of Brain Iron Profile in Neurodegenerative Diseases

Iron has been increasingly implicated in the pathology of neurodegenerative diseases. In the past decade, development of the new magnetic resonance imaging technique, quantitative susceptibility mapping (QSM), has enabled for the more comprehensive investigation of iron distribution in the brain. The aim of this systematic review was to provideaa synthesis of the findings from existing QSM studies in neurodegenerative diseases. The authors identified 80 records by searching MEDLINE, Embase, Scopus, and PsycInfo databases. The disorders investigated in these studies included Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Wilson's disease, Huntington's disease, Friedreich's ataxia, spinocerebellar ataxia, Fabry disease, myotonic dystrophy, pantothenate-kinase-associated neurodegeneration, and mitochondrial membrane protein-associated neurodegeneration. As a general pattern, QSM revealed increased magnetic susceptibility (suggestive of increased iron content) in the brain regions associated with the pathology of each disorder, such as the amygdala and caudate nucleus in Alzheimer's disease, the substantia nigra in Parkinson's disease, motor cortex in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, basal ganglia in Huntington's disease, and cerebellar dentate nucleus in Friedreich's ataxia. Furthermore, the increased magnetic susceptibility correlated with disease duration and severity of clinical features in some disorders. Although the number of studies is still limited in most of the neurodegenerative diseases, the existing evidence suggests that QSM can be a promising tool in the investigation of neurodegeneration.

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Ectopic Burden via Holter Monitors in Friedreich Ataxia

Nearly 60% of deaths Friedreich ataxia are cardiac in nature, with one in eight deaths due to arrhythmia. Additional or irregular heartbeats, measured as ectopy, can be quantified using portable heart rhythm monitoring. This study sought to describe the ectopic burden in Friedreich ataxia. Using a natural history study of patients with Friedreich ataxia at a single center, this group analyzed portable heart rhythm monitors (Holters). Ectopic burden was defined as the proportion of atrial or ventricular ectopic beats over total beats. Of 456 patients, 131 had Holters. Sixty-eight (52.0%) were male, median age of symptom onset was 8.0 years (5.0 to 13.0, n = 111), median age at time of Holter was 17.3 years (interquartile range [IQR] 12.9 to 22.8, n = 129), and median duration of illness was 8.7 years (IQR 5.3 to 11.6, n = 110). Median GAA length on the shorter FXN allele was 706.0 (IQR 550.0 to 840.0, n = 112). Eight (7.8%, n = 103) had diminished cardiac function, and 74 (74.0%, n = 100) had ventricular hypertrophy. Ninety patients (83.0%) had atrial ectopy (supraventricular ectopy [SVE]): 85 (78.0%) with rare SVE (>0% to 5%) and five (5.0%) with frequent SVE (>10%). Twenty-five (19.0%) had supraventricular runs, and one (0.8%) had atrial fibrillation/flutter. Forty-five (41.0%) had ventricular ectopy (VE): 43 (39.0%) with rare VE (0% to 5%) and two (2.0%) with moderate VE (5% to 10%). Compared with patients with none and rare SVE, patients with frequent SVE had longer disease duration (18.3 versus 4.6 versus 9.0 years, P = 0.0005). Heart rhythm monitoring may be considered for risk stratification; however, longitudinal analysis is needed.

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Crosstalk between nucleus and mitochondria in human disease: Mitochondrial iron and calcium homeostasis in Friedreich ataxia

Evidence indicate that frataxin deficiency causes an unbalance of iron homeostasis. Nevertheless, in the last decade many results also highlighted the importance of calcium unbalance in the deleterious downstream effects caused by frataxin deficiency. In this review, the role of these two metals has been gathered to give a whole view of how iron and calcium dyshomeostasys impacts on cellular functions and, as a result, which strategies can be followed to find an effective therapy for the disease.

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