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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.

Defining Transcription Regulatory Elements in the Human Frataxin Gene: Implications for Gene Therapy

Despite numerous studies focused on identifying compounds capable of stimulating FXN expression, current knowledge regarding cis-regulatory elements involved in FXN gene expression is lacking. Using a combination of episomal and genome-integrated constructs, the authors defined a minimal endogenous promoter sequence required to efficiently drive FXN expression in human cells. They generated 19 constructs varying in length of the DNA sequences upstream and downstream of the ATG start codon. Using transient transfection, they evaluated the capability of these constructs to drive FXN expression. These analyses allowed the identification of a region of the gene indispensable for FXN expression. Subsequently, selected constructs containing the FXN expression control regions of varying lengths were site-specifically integrated into the genome of HEK293T and human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). FXN expression was detected in iPSCs and persisted after differentiation to neuronal and cardiac cells, indicating lineage independent function of defined regulatory DNA sequences. Finally, based on these results, this group generated AAV encoding miniFXN genes and demonstrated in vivo FXN expression in mice. Results of these studies identified FXN sequences necessary to express FXN in human and mouse cells and provided rationale for potential use of endogenous FXN sequence in gene therapy strategies for FRDA.

Read the entire article HERE

Vestibular Impact of Friedreich Ataxia in Early Onset Patients

Friedreich ataxia (FRDA) is the most frequent form of inherited ataxias. Vestibular and auditory assessments are not commonly part of the check up for these patients despite hearing and balance complaints. Screening of vestibular and auditory function was performed in a large group of young patients with genetically confirmed FRDA. The study included 43 patients (7-24 years of age). A complete vestibular assessment was performed including the canals function evaluation at 3 head velocities (bithermal caloric test, earth vertical axis rotation (EVAR) and head impulse test (HIT)) and otolith function evaluation (cervical vestibular evoked myogenic potentials). Information regarding the hearing evaluation of the patients were also retrieved including impedance tympanometry, distortion product otoacoustic emissions (DPOAEs), air and bone conduction audiometry and auditory brainstem response (ABR). Vestibular responses were impaired for canal responses (only at high and middle head velocities) and vestibulospinal otolithic responses. Abnormal neural conduction in the central auditory pathways was frequently observed. Oculomotor abnormalities were frequent, mostly hypermetric saccades and gaze instability. Inhibition of the vestibulo-ocular reflex by fixation was normal. The authors show that Friedreich ataxia, even at onset, frequently associate saccadic intrusions, abnormal ABRs and decreased vestibulo-ocular and vestibulospinal responses progressing over time. These sensory impairments combined with ataxia further impair patient's autonomy. These vestibular, auditory and visual impairments could be used as markers of the severity and progression of the disease. Adding vestibular and auditory testing to Friedreich patient's evaluation may help physicians improve patient's management.

Read the entire article HERE

Cerebellar Cognitive Disorder Parallels Cerebellar Motor Symptoms in Friedreich Ataxia

Dentate nuclei (DN) are involved in cerebellar modulation of motor and cognitive functions, whose impairment causes ataxia and cerebellar cognitive affective syndrome (CCAS). Friedreich ataxia (FRDA) disease progression relates to degeneration of the dentate nucleus and dentato-thalamic pathways, causing cerebellar ataxia. Volumetric MRI also shows mild loss in the cerebellar cortex, brainstem, and motor cortex. Cognitive deficits occur in FRDA, but their relationship with ataxia progression is not fully characterized. The authors found a significant positive correlation between severity of patients' ataxia and more marked CCAS as assessed with the CCAS-Scale. This relation could be related to progressive DN impairment.

Read the entire article HERE

Significance of NT-proBNP and High-sensitivity Troponin in Friedreich Ataxia

The authors aimed at determining the relationship between cardiac biomarkers, serum N-terminal pro-brain natriuretic peptide (NT-proBNP), and serum cardiac high-sensitivity troponin (hsTnT) concentrations, and the extent of genetic abnormality and cardiac parameters in Friedreich's ataxia (FA). Between 2013 and 2015, 85 consecutive genetically confirmed FA adult patients were prospectively evaluated by measuring plasma hsTnT and NT-proBNP concentrations, electrocardiogram, and echocardiography. The 85 FA patients (49% women) with a mean age of 39 ± 12 years, a mean disease onset of 17 ± 11 years had a mean SARA (Scale for the Assessment and Rating of Ataxia) score of 26 ± 10. The median hsTnT concentration was 10 ng/L (3 to 85 ng/L) and 34% had a significant elevated hsTnT ≥ 14 ng/L. Increased septal wall thickness was associated with increased hsTnT plasma levels (p < 0.001). The median NT-proBNP concentration was 31 ng/L (5 to 775 ng/L) and 14% had significant elevated NT-proBNP ≥ 125 ng/L. Markers of increased left ventricular filling pressure (trans mitral E/A and lateral E/E' ratio) were associated with increased NT-proBNP plasma levels (p = 0.01 and p = 0.01). Length of GAA or the SARA score were not associated with hsTnT or NT-proBNP plasma levels. hsTnT and NT-proBNP could be used to identify patients that should undergo a closer cardiac surveillance.

Read the entire article HERE

CRISPR-Cas9 Gene Editing of Hematopoietic Stem Cells From Patients With Friedreich's Ataxia

These investigators have previously reported that syngeneic hematopoietic stem and progenitor cell (HSPC) transplantation prevented neurodegeneration in the Friedreich's Ataxia (FRDA) mouse model YG8R. This group showed that the mechanism of rescue was mediated by the transfer of the functional frataxin from HSPC-derived microglia/macrophage cells to neurons/myocytes. In this study, the first step toward an autologous HSPC transplantation using the CRISPR-Cas9 system for FRDA is reported. The authors first identified a pair of CRISPR RNAs (crRNAs) that efficiently removes the GAA expansions in human FRDA lymphoblasts, restoring the non-pathologic level of frataxin expression and normalizing mitochondrial activity. They also optimized the gene-editing approach in HSPCs isolated from healthy and FRDA patients' peripheral blood and demonstrated normal hematopoiesis of gene-edited cells in vitro and in vivo. The procedure did not induce cellular toxic effect or major off-target events, but a p53-mediated cell proliferation delay was observed in the gene-edited cells. This study provides the foundation for the clinical translation of autologous transplantation of gene-corrected HSPCs for FRDA.

Read the entire article HERE

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