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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.


Auditory Phenotypic Variability in Friedreich's Ataxia Patients

Auditory neural impairment is a key clinical feature of Friedreich's Ataxia (FRDA). We aimed to characterize the phenotypical spectrum of the auditory impairment in FRDA in order to facilitate early identification and timely management of auditory impairment in FRDA patients and to explore the relationship between the severity of auditory impairment with genetic variables (the expansion size of GAA trinucleotide repeats, GAA1 and GAA2), when controlled for variables such as disease duration, severity of the disease and cognitive status. Twenty-seven patients with genetically confirmed FRDA underwent baseline audiological assessment (pure-tone audiometry, otoacoustic emissions, auditory brainstem response). Twenty of these patients had additional psychophysical auditory processing evaluation including an auditory temporal processing test (gaps in noise test) and a binaural speech perception test that assesses spatial processing (Listening in Spatialized Noise-Sentences Test). Auditory spatial and auditory temporal processing ability were significantly associated with the repeat length of GAA1. Patients with GAA1 greater than 500 repeats had more severe auditory temporal and spatial processing deficits, leading to poorer speech perception. Furthermore, the spatial processing ability was strongly correlated with the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) score. This is the first study to demonstrate an association between genotype and auditory spatial processing phenotype in patients with FRDA. Auditory temporal processing, neural sound conduction, spatial processing and speech perception were more severely affected in patients with GAA1 greater than 500 repeats. The results of this study may indicate that auditory deprivation plays a role in the development of mild cognitive impairment in FRDA patients.

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Prognostic value of longitudinal strain and ejection fraction in Friedreich ataxia

Cardiac disease is the major cause of death in Friedreich's ataxia (FA), patients with reduced left ventricular ejection fraction (LVEF) having the worse prognosis. Longitudinal strain (LS) appeared to be a better predictor of outcome than LVEF in different diseases. The prognostic value of LS measured from the 4 chambers view was compared to LVEF. From 2003 to 2017 consecutive patients with FA were included and LS analysis was retrospectively performed. 140 patients were studied, with a median age of 34 (26-41) years (Q1-Q3) with age at onset of 14 (11-19) years and GAA repeats on the shorter allele of 600 (467-783) pb. Mean LS was 19.9 ± 5.0% and LVEF 64 ± 8%. After a mean follow-up of 7.4 ± 3.9 years, 14 patients died. In univariate Cox analysis, all-cause mortality was associated with: LS (HR 0.83; 95%CI, 0.75-0.91, p = 0.0002), LVEF (HR 0.30; 95%CI, 0.19-0.49, p < 0.0001), GAA repeats on the shorter allele (HR 1.29; 95%CI, 1.10-1.51, p = 0.002), age at onset (HR 0.87; 95%CI, 0.77-0.98, p = 0.018), LVSystolic Diameter (HR 1.17; 95%CI, 1.09-1.26, p < 0.0001), LVMass index (HR 1.02; 95%CI, 1.00-1.04, p = 0.027), and LVDiastolic Diameter (HR1.12; 95%CI, 1.01-1.23, p = 0.028). In multivariate analysis, LVEF was the only independent predictor of mortality (HR 0.41; 95%CI, 0.23-0.74, p = 0.0029). In FA, LS was not an independent predictor of mortality, LVEF remained the only independent predictor in the present study.

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Modifiers of Somatic Repeat Instability in Mouse Models of Friedreich Ataxia and the Fragile X-Related Disorders: Implications for the Mechanism of Somatic Expansion in Huntington's Disease

In this review the authors discuss mouse models of two non-CAG repeat expansion diseases, specifically the Fragile X-related disorders (FXDs) and Friedreich ataxia (FRDA). They compare and contrast these models with mouse and patient-derived cell models of various other repeat expansion disorders and the relevance of these findings for somatic expansion in Huntington’s disease (HD). The authors also describe additional genetic factors and pathways that modify somatic expansion in the FXD mouse model for which no comparable data yet exists in HD mice or humans. These additional factors expand the potential druggable space for diseases like HD where somatic expansion is a significant contributor to disease impact.

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Gauging Gait Disorders with a Method Inspired by Motor Control Theories: A Pilot Study in Friedreich's Ataxia

It has been found that instrumented gait analysis can provide information associated with a patient's performance and help to remedy the shortcomings of the currently available outcome measures. The goal of this methodological article is to set the background and justify a new outcome measure inspired by the motor control theories to analyze gait using spatiotemporal parameters. The method is applied in a population of individuals living with Friedreich's ataxia (FRDA), a neurodegenerative disease. The sample population consisted of 19 subjects, 11 to 65 years of age with FRDA, who either ambulated independently, with a cane, or with a rollator. Three scores based on the distance from healthy normative data were used: Organization Score, Variability Score, and an overall measurement, the Global Ambulation Score. The scores were then compared to the Scale for Assessment and Rating of Ataxia (SARA) Gait Score (SARA-GS), a clinical scale currently being used for gait analysis in FRDA. Organization Scores demonstrated a longitudinal deterioration in the gait characteristics from independent ambulators to those who ambulated with a rollator. Variability Scores mostly reflected dynamic instability, which became greater as the requirement of an ambulation aid or the switch from a cane to a rollator was imminent. The global value given by the Global Ambulation Score, which takes into consideration both the Organization Score, the Variability Score, and the level of assistive device, demonstrated a logarithmic relationship with the SARA-GS. Overall, these results highlight that both components introduced should be analyzed concurrently and suggest that the Global Ambulation Score may be a valuable outcome measure for longitudinal disease progression.

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Defective palmitoylation of transferrin receptor triggers iron overload in Friedreich's ataxia fibroblasts

Frataxin deficiency in Friedreich's ataxia (FRDA) affects ISC-containing proteins and causes iron to accumulate in the brain and heart of FRDA patients. This study reports on abnormal cellular iron homeostasis in FRDA fibroblasts inducing a massive iron overload in the cytosol and mitochondria. The authors observe membrane transferrin receptor 1 (TfR1) accumulation, increased TfR1 endocytosis, and delayed transferrin recycling, ascribing this to impaired TfR1 palmitoylation. Frataxin deficiency is shown to reduce coenzyme A (CoA) availability for TfR1 palmitoylation. Finally, this study demonstrates that artesunate, CoA, and dichloroacetate improve TfR1 palmitoylation and decrease iron overload, paving the road for evidence-based therapeutic strategies at the actionable level of TfR1 palmitoylation in FRDA.

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