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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.


Copper, Iron, and Manganese Toxicity in Neuropsychiatric Conditions

Copper, manganese, and iron are vital elements required for the appropriate development and the general preservation of good health. Additionally, these essential metals play key roles in ensuring proper brain development and function. They also play vital roles in the central nervous system as significant cofactors for several enzymes, including the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD) and other enzymes that take part in the creation and breakdown of neurotransmitters in the brain. An imbalance in the levels of these metals weakens the structural, regulatory, and catalytic roles of different enzymes, proteins, receptors, and transporters and is known to provoke the development of various neurological conditions through different mechanisms, such as via induction of oxidative stress, increased α-synuclein aggregation and fibril formation, and stimulation of microglial cells, thus resulting in inflammation and reduced production of metalloproteins. In the present review, the authors focus on neurological disorders with psychiatric signs associated with copper, iron, and manganese excess and the diagnosis and potential treatment of such disorders. In this review, the authors described diseases related to these metals, such as aceruloplasminaemia, neuroferritinopathy, pantothenate kinase-associated neurodegeneration (PKAN) and other very rare classical NBIA forms, manganism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), ephedrone encephalopathy, HMNDYT1-SLC30A10 deficiency (HMNDYT1), HMNDYT2-SLC39A14 deficiency, CDG2N-SLC39A8 deficiency, hepatic encephalopathy, prion disease and "prion-like disease", amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Huntington's disease, Friedreich's ataxia, and depression.

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The Role of Voltage-Dependent Anion Channel in Mitochondrial Dysfunction and Human Disease

The voltage-dependent anion channel (VDAC) is a β-barrel membrane protein located in the outer mitochondrial membrane (OMM). VDAC has two conductance states: an open anion selective state, and a closed and slightly cation-selective state. VDAC conductance states play major roles in regulating permeability of ATP/ADP, regulation of calcium homeostasis, calcium flux within ER-mitochondria contact sites, and apoptotic signaling events. Three reported structures of VDAC provide information on the VDAC open state via X-ray crystallography and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR). Together, these structures provide insight on how VDAC aids metabolite transport. The interaction partners of VDAC, together with the permeability of the pore, affect the molecular pathology of diseases including Parkinson's disease (PD), Friedreich's ataxia (FA), lupus, and cancer. To fully address the molecular role of VDAC in disease pathology, major questions must be answered on the structural conformers of VDAC. For example, further information is needed on the structure of the closed state, how binding partners or membrane potential could lead to the open/closed states, the function and mobility of the N-terminal α-helical domain of VDAC, and the physiological role of VDAC oligomers. This review covers our current understanding of the various states of VDAC, VDAC interaction partners, and the roles they play in mitochondrial regulation pertaining to human diseases.

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Digital endpoints for self-administered home-based functional assessment in pediatric Friedreich's ataxia

This study evaluated the utility of home-based, self-administered digital endpoints in children with Friedreich's ataxia and unaffected controls and their relationship to standard clinical rating scales. In a cross-sectional study with 25 participants (13 with Friedreich's ataxia and 12 unaffected controls, aged 6-15 years), home-based digital endpoints that reflect activities of daily living were recorded over 1 week. Domains analyzed were hand motor function with a digitized drawing, automated analysis of speech with a recorded oral diadochokinesis test, and gait and balance with wearable sensors. Hand-drawing and speech tests were easy to conduct and generated high-quality data. The sensor-based gait and balance tests suffered from technical limitations in this study setup. Several parameters discriminated between groups or correlated strongly with modified Friedreich's Ataxia Rating Scale total score and activities of daily living total score in the Friedreich's ataxia group. Hand-drawing parameters also strongly correlated with standard 9-hole peg test scores. Deploying digital endpoints in home settings is feasible in this population, results in meaningful and robust data collection, and may allow for frequent sampling over longer periods of time to track disease progression. Care must be taken when training participants, and investigators should consider the complexity of the tasks and equipment used.

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Diagnostic and Prognostic Value of Cardiovascular Magnetic Resonance in Neuromuscular Cardiomyopathies.

Neuromuscular diseases (NMD) encompass a broad spectrum of diseases with variable type of cardiac involvement and there is lack of clinical data on Cardiovascular Magnetic Resonance (CMR) phenotypes or even prognostic value of CMR in NMD. The authors explored the diagnostic and prognostic value of CMR in NMD-related cardiomyopathies. The study included retrospective analysis of a cohort of 111 patients with various forms of NMD; mitochondrial: n = 14, Friedreich's ataxia (FA): n = 27, myotonic dystrophy: n = 27, Becker/Duchenne's muscular dystrophy (BMD/DMD): n = 15, Duchenne's carriers: n = 6, other: n = 22. Biventricular volumes and function and myocardial late gadolinium enhancement (LGE) pattern and extent were assessed by CMR. Patients were followed-up for the composite clinical endpoint of death, heart failure development or need for permanent pacemaker/intracardiac defibrillator. The major NMD subtypes, i.e. FA, mitochondrial, BMD/DMD, and myotonic dystrophy had significant differences in the incidence of LGE (56%, 21%, 62% & 30% respectively, chi2 = 9.86, p = 0.042) and type of cardiomyopathy phenotype (chi2 = 13.8, p = 0.008), extent/pattern (p = 0.006) and progression rate of LGE (p = 0.006). In survival analysis the composite clinical endpoint differed significantly between NMD subtypes (p = 0.031), while the subgroup with LGE + and LVEF < 50% had the worst prognosis (Log-rank p = 0.0034). This study presents data from a unique cohort of NMD patients and provides evidence on the incidence, patterns, and the prognostic value of LGE in NMD-related cardiomyopathy. LGE is variably present in NMD subtypes and correlates with LV remodeling, dysfunction, and clinical outcomes in patients with NMD.

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Polyuria and Acute Hyperglycemia Secondary to New-Onset Diabetes in a Young Woman With Friedreich's Ataxia

A 23-year-old woman with progressive Friedreich's ataxia (FRDA) presented to a local urgent care facility for urinary urgency and frequency. A urinalysis showed the presence of trace ketones and glucose, and point-of-care testing revealed severely elevated glucose. The patient was referred to the emergency department and was admitted for further evaluation of hyperglycemia. Laboratory tests were negative for a urinary tract infection; however, results revealed elevated serum glucose and hemoglobin A1C. She was diagnosed with new-onset diabetes mellitus and started on insulin therapy. Management of her diabetes was complicated due to advanced neurodegenerative symptoms related to FRDA. An individualized treatment plan and coordination of care with her home facility were essential for managing her diabetes.

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