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FARA Funded Research

Your generous support has funded all the research listed below.

For more information on FARA-funded research & scientists, please visit FARA Supported Research, Active Clinical Trials and the Featured Scientist.



Identification of cardioprotective drugs by medium-scale in vivo pharmacological screening on a Drosophila cardiac model of Friedreich's ataxia

Friedreich's ataxia (FA) is caused by reduced levels of frataxin, a highly conserved mitochondrial protein. There is currently no effective treatment for this disease, characterized by progressive neurodegeneration and cardiomyopathy, the latter being the most common cause of death in patients. We previously developed a Drosophila melanogaster cardiac model of FA, in which the fly frataxin is inactivated specifically in the heart, leading to heart dilatation and impaired systolic function. Methylene Blue (MB) was highly efficient to prevent these cardiac dysfunctions. Here, we used this model to screen in vivo the Prestwick Chemical library, comprising 1280 compounds. Eleven drugs significantly reduced the cardiac dilatation, some of which may possibly lead to therapeutic applications in the future. The one with the strongest protective effects was Paclitaxel, a microtubule-stabilizing drug. In parallel, we characterized the histological defects induced by frataxin deficiency in cardiomyocytes and observed strong sarcomere alterations with loss of striation of actin fibers, along with full disruption of the microtubule network. Paclitaxel and MB both improved these structural defects. Therefore, we propose that frataxin inactivation induces cardiac dysfunction through impaired sarcomere assembly or renewal due to microtubule destabilization, without excluding additional mechanisms. This study is the first drug screening of this extent performed in vivo on a Drosophila model of cardiac disease. Thus, it also brings the proof of concept that cardiac functional imaging in adult Drosophila flies is usable for medium-scale in vivo pharmacological screening, with potent identification of cardioprotective drugs in various contexts of cardiac diseases.

Read the entire article HERE

Rapid and Complete Reversal of Sensory Ataxia by Gene Therapy in a Novel Model of Friedreich Ataxia

Friedreich ataxia (FA) is a rare mitochondrial disease characterized by sensory and spinocerebellar ataxia, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, and diabetes, for which there is no treatment. FA is caused by reduced levels of frataxin (FXN), an essential mitochondrial protein involved in the biosynthesis of iron-sulfur (Fe-S) clusters. Despite significant progress in recent years, to date, there are no good models to explore and test therapeutic approaches to stop or reverse the ganglionopathy and the sensory neuropathy associated to frataxin deficiency. Here, we report a new conditional mouse model with complete frataxin deletion in parvalbumin-positive cells that recapitulate the sensory ataxia and neuropathy associated to FA, albeit with a more rapid and severe course. Interestingly, although fully dysfunctional, proprioceptive neurons can survive for many weeks without frataxin. Furthermore, we demonstrate that post-symptomatic delivery of frataxin-expressing AAV allows for rapid and complete rescue of the sensory neuropathy associated with frataxin deficiency, thus establishing the pre-clinical proof of concept for the potential of gene therapy in treating FA neuropathy.

Read the entire article HERE

Drosophila melanogaster Models of Friedreich's Ataxia

Friedreich's ataxia (FRDA) is a rare inherited recessive disorder affecting the central and peripheral nervous systems and other extraneural organs such as the heart and pancreas. This incapacitating condition usually manifests in childhood or adolescence, exhibits an irreversible progression that confines the patient to a wheelchair, and leads to early death. FRDA is caused by a reduced level of the nuclear-encoded mitochondrial protein frataxin due to an abnormal GAA triplet repeat expansion in the first intron of the human FXN gene. FXN is evolutionarily conserved, with orthologs in essentially all eukaryotes and some prokaryotes, leading to the development of experimental models of this disease in different organisms. These FRDA models have contributed substantially to our current knowledge of frataxin function and the pathogenesis of the disease, as well as to explorations of suitable treatments. Drosophila melanogaster, an organism that is easy to manipulate genetically, has also become important in FRDA research. This review describes the substantial contribution of Drosophila to FRDA research since the characterization of the fly frataxin ortholog more than 15 years ago. Fly models have provided a comprehensive characterization of the defects associated with frataxin deficiency and have revealed genetic modifiers of disease phenotypes. In addition, these models are now being used in the search for potential therapeutic compounds for the treatment of this severe and still incurable disease.

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Peripheral blood gene expression reveals an inflammatory transcriptomic signature in Friedreich's ataxia patients

Transcriptional changes in Friedreich's ataxia (FRDA), a rare and debilitating recessive Mendelian neurodegenerative disorder, have been studied in affected but inaccessible tissues - such as dorsal root ganglia, sensory neurons, and cerebellum - in animal models or small patient series. However, transcriptional changes induced by FRDA in peripheral blood, a readily accessible tissue, have not been characterized in a large sample. We used differential expression, association with disability stage, network analysis, and enrichment analysis to characterize the peripheral blood transcriptome and identify genes that were differentially expressed in FRDA patients (n = 418) compared to both heterozygous expansion carriers (n = 228) and controls (n = 93, 739 individuals in total), or were associated with disease progression, resulting in a disease signature for FRDA. We identified a transcriptional signature strongly enriched for an inflammatory innate immune response. Future studies should seek to further characterize the role of peripheral inflammation in FRDA pathology and determine its relevance to overall disease progression.

Read the entire article HERE

Lipophilic methylene blue analogues enhance mitochondrial function and increase frataxin levels in a cellular model of Friedreich's ataxia

Friedreich's ataxia (FRDA) is an autosomal recessive neurodegenerative disorder resulting from reduced expression of the protein frataxin (FXN). Although its function is not fully understood, frataxin appears to help assemble iron sulfur clusters; these are critical for the function of many proteins, including those needed for mitochondrial energy production. Finding ways to increase FXN levels has been a major therapeutic strategy for this disease. Previously, we described a novel series of methylene violet analogues and their structural optimization as potential therapeutic agents for neurodegenerative and mitochondrial disorders. Presently, a series of methylene blue analogues has been synthesized and characterized for their in vitro biochemical and biological properties in cultured Friedreich's ataxia lymphocytes. Favorable methylene blue analogues were shown to increase frataxin levels and mitochondrial biogenesis, and to improve aconitase activity. The analogues were found to be good ROS scavengers, and able to protect cultured FRDA lymphocytes from oxidative stress resulting from inhibition of complex I and from glutathione depletion. The analogues also preserved mitochondrial membrane potential and augmented ATP production. Our results suggest that analogue 5, emerging from the initial structure of the parent compound methylene blue (MB), represents a promising lead structure and lacks the cytotoxicity associated with the parent compound MB.

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