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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.


Mitochondrial dysfunction in the development and progression of neurodegenerative diseases

In addition to ATP synthesis, mitochondria are highly dynamic organelles that modulate apoptosis, ferroptosis, and inflammasome activation. Through executing these varied functions, the mitochondria play critical roles in the development and progression of neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer disease, Parkinson disease, Huntington disease, and Friedreich ataxia, among others. Impaired mitochondrial biogenesis and abnormal mitochondrial dynamics contribute to mitochondrial dysfunction in these diseases. Additionally, dysfunctional mitochondria play critical roles in signaling for both inflammasome activation and ferroptosis. Therapeutics are being developed to circumvent inflammasome activation and ferroptosis in dysfunctional mitochondria. Targeting these aspects of mitochondrial dysfunction may present viable therapeutic strategies for combating the neurodegenerative diseases. This review aims to summarize the role of the mitochondria in the development and progression of neurodegenerative diseases and to present current therapeutic approaches that target mitochondrial dysfunction in these diseases.

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Molecular Defects in Friedreich's Ataxia: Convergence of Oxidative Stress and Cytoskeletal Abnormalities

After the discovery of the molecular basis of Friedreich's ataxia (FRDA) in 1996, over two decades of research have been dedicated to understanding the temporal manifestations of disease both at the whole body and molecular level. Early research indicated strong cellular iron dysregulation in both human and yeast models followed by onset of oxidative stress. Since then, the pathophysiology due to dysregulation of intracellular iron chaperoning has become central in FRDA relative to antioxidant defense and run-down in energy metabolism. At the same time, limited consideration has been given to changes in cytoskeletal organization, which was one of the first molecular defects noted. These alterations include both post-translational oxidative glutathionylation of actin monomers and differential DNA processing of a cytoskeletal regulator PIP5K1β. Currently unknown in respect to FRDA but well understood in the context of FXN-deficient cell physiology is the resulting impact on the cytoskeleton; this disassembly of actin filaments has a particularly profound effect on cell-cell junctions characteristic of barrier cells. With respect to a neurodegenerative disorder such as FRDA, this cytoskeletal and tight junction breakdown in the brain microvascular endothelial cells of the blood-brain barrier is likely a component of disease etiology. This review serves to outline a brief history of this research and hones in on pathway dysregulation downstream of iron-related pathology in FRDA related to actin dynamics. The review presented here was not written with the intent of being exhaustive, but to instead urge the reader to consider the essentiality of the cytoskeleton and appreciate the limited knowledge on FRDA-related cytoskeletal dysfunction as a result of oxidative stress. The review examines previous hypotheses of neurodegeneration with brain iron accumulation (NBIA) in FRDA with a specific biochemical focus.

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Central Nervous System Therapeutic Targets in Friedreich Ataxia

Friedreich ataxia (FRDA) is an autosomal recessive inherited multisystem disease, characterized by marked differences in the vulnerability of neuronal systems. In general, the proprioceptive system appears to be affected early, while later in the disease the dentate nucleus of the cerebellum and, to some degree, the corticospinal tracts degenerate. In the current era of expanding therapeutic discovery in FRDA, including progress towards novel gene therapies, a deeper and more specific consideration of potential treatment targets in the nervous system is necessary. In the present work, we have re-examined the neuropathology of FRDA, recognizing new issues superimposed on classical findings and dissected the peripheral nervous system (PNS) and central nervous system (CNS) aspects of the disease and the affected cell types. Understanding the temporal course of neuropathological changes is needed to identify areas of modifiable disease progression and the CNS and PNS locations that can be targeted at different timepoints. As most major targets of long-term therapy are in the CNS, the present review uses multiple tools for evaluation of the importance of specific CNS locations as targets. In addition to clinical observations, the conceptualizations here include physiological, pathological and imaging approaches, and animal models. This review, through analysis of a more complete set of data derived from multiple techniques, provides a comprehensive summary of therapeutic targets in FRDA.

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High Levels of Frataxin Overexpression Lead to Mitochondrial and Cardiac Toxicity in Mouse Models

Cardiac dysfunction is the main cause of premature death in Friedreich ataxia (FA). Adeno-associated virus (AAV)-mediated gene therapy constitutes a promising approach for FA, as demonstrated in cardiac and neurological mouse models. While the minimal therapeutic level of FXN protein to be restored and biodistribution have recently been defined for the heart, it is unclear if FXN overexpression could be harmful. Indeed, depending on the vector delivery route and dose administered, the resulting FXN protein level could reach very high levels in the heart, cerebellum, or off-target organs such as the liver. The present study demonstrates safety of FXN cardiac overexpression up to 9-fold the normal endogenous level but significant toxicity to the mitochondria and heart above 20-fold. The authors show gradual severity with increasing FXN overexpression, ranging from subclinical cardiotoxicity to left ventricle dysfunction. This appears to be driven by impairment of the mitochondria respiratory chain and ultrastructure, which leads to cardiomyocyte subcellular disorganization, cell death, and fibrosis. Overall, this study underlines the need, during the development of gene therapy approaches, to consider appropriate vector expression level, long-term safety, and biomarkers to monitor such events.

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The Nrf2 induction prevents ferroptosis in Friedreich's Ataxia

Ferroptosis is an iron-dependent cell death caused by impaired glutathione metabolism, lipid peroxidation and mitochondrial failure. Emerging evidences report a role for ferroptosis in Friedreich's Ataxia (FRDA), a neurodegenerative disease caused by the decreased expression of the mitochondrial protein frataxin. Nrf2 signalling is implicated in many molecular aspects of ferroptosis, by upstream regulating glutathione homeostasis, mitochondrial function and lipid metabolism. As Nrf2 is down-regulated in FRDA, targeting Nrf2-mediated ferroptosis in FRDA may be an attractive option to counteract neurodegeneration in such disease, thus paving the way to new therapeutic opportunities. In this study, the authors evaluated ferroptosis hallmarks in frataxin-silenced mouse myoblasts, in hearts of a frataxin Knockin/Knockout (KIKO) mouse model, in skin fibroblasts and blood of patients, particularly focusing on ferroptosis-driven gene expression, mitochondrial impairment and lipid peroxidation. The efficacy of Nrf2 inducers to neutralize ferroptosis has been also evaluated.

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