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FARAFARA Cure FA

 

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.


 

 

Low apolipoprotein A-I levels in Friedreich's ataxia and in frataxin-deficient cells: Implications for therapy

Friedreich's ataxia (FA) is an autosomal recessive neurodegenerative disorder, which results primarily from reduced expression of the mitochondrial protein frataxin. FA has an estimated prevalence of one in 50,000 in the population, making it the most common hereditary ataxia. Paradoxically, mortality arises most frequently from cardiomyopathy and cardiac failure rather than from neurological effects. Decreased high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and apolipoprotein A-I (ApoA-l) levels in the general population are associated with an increased risk of mortality from cardiomyopathy and heart failure. However, the pathophysiology of heart disease in FA is non-vascular and there are conflicting data on HDL-cholesterol in FA. Two studies have shown a decrease in HDL-cholesterol compared with controls and two have shown there was no difference between FA and controls. One also showed that there was no difference in serum Apo-A-I levels in FA when compared with controls. Using a highly specific stable isotope dilution mass spectrometry-based assay, we demonstrated a 21.6% decrease in serum ApoA-I in FA patients (134.8 mg/dL, n = 95) compared with non-affected controls (172.1 mg/dL, n = 95). This is similar to the difference in serum ApoA-I levels between non-smokers and tobacco smokers. Knockdown of frataxin by > 70% in human hepatoma HepG2 cells caused a 20% reduction in secreted ApoA-I. Simvastatin, a 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl-coenzyme A (HMG-CoA) reductase inhibitor caused a 200% increase in HMG-CoA in the control HepG2 cells with a similar increase in the frataxin knockdown HepG2 cells, back to levels found in the control cells. There was a concomitant 20% increase in secreted ApoA-I to levels found in the control cells that were treated with simvastatin. This study provides compelling evidence that ApoA-I levels are reduced in FA patients compared with controls and suggest that statin treatment would normalize the ApoA-I levels.

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Activation of Frataxin Protein Expression by Antisense Oligonucleotides Targeting the Mutant Expanded Repeat

Friedreich's Ataxia (FA) is an inherited neurologic disorder caused by an expanded GAA repeat within intron 1 of the frataxin (FXN) gene that reduces expression of FXN protein. Agents that increase expression of FXN have the potential to alleviate the disease. We previously reported that duplex RNAs (dsRNAs) and antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs) complementary to the GAA repeat could enhance expression of FXN protein. We now explore the potential of a diverse group of chemically modified dsRNAs and ASOs to define the breadth of repeat-targeted synthetic nucleic acids as a platform for therapeutic development for FA. ASOs and dsRNAs can activate FXN protein expression in FA patient-derived cell lines that possess varied numbers of GAA repeats. Increased FXN protein expression was achieved by ASOs incorporating diverse chemical modifications with low nanomolar potencies, suggesting substantial flexibility in choosing compounds for further chemical optimization and animal studies. Our data encourage further development of ASOs as agents to treat FA.

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Liquid Chromatography-High Resolution Mass Spectrometry Analysis of Platelet Frataxin as a Protein Biomarker for the Rare Disease Friedreich's Ataxia

Friedreich's ataxia (FA) is an autosomal recessive disease caused by an intronic GAA triplet expansion in the FXN gene, leading to reduced expression of the mitochondrial protein frataxin. FA is estimated to affect 1 in 50,000 with a mean age of death in the fourth decade of life. There are no approved treatments for FA, although experimental approaches, which involve up-regulation or replacement of frataxin protein, are being tested. Frataxin is undetectable in serum or plasma, and whole blood cannot be used because it is present in long-lived erythrocytes. Therefore, an assay was developed for analyzing frataxin in platelets, which have a half-life of 10-days. The assay is based on stable isotope dilution immunopurification two-dimensional nano-ultrahigh performance liquid chromatography/parallel reaction monitoring/mass spectrometry. The lower limit of quantification was 0.078 pg frataxin/μg protein and the assay had 100% sensitivity and specificity for discriminating between controls and FA cases. The mean levels of control and FA platelet frataxin were 9.4 2.6 pg/g protein and 2.4 0.6 pg/g protein, respectively. The assay should make it possible to rigorously monitor the effects of therapeutic interventions on frataxin expression in this devastating disease.

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Early VGLUT1-specific parallel fiber synaptic deficits and dysregulated cerebellar circuit in the KIKO mouse model of Friedreich ataxia

Friedreich ataxia (FRDA) is an autosomal recessive neurodegenerative disorder with progressive ataxia that affects both the peripheral and central nervous system (CNS). While later CNS neuropathology involves loss of large principal neurons and glutamatergic and GABAergic synaptic terminals in the cerebellar dentate nucleus, early pathological changes in FRDA cerebellum remain largely uncharacterized. This study reports early cerebellar VGLUT1 (SLC17A7)-specific parallel fiber (PF) synaptic deficits and dysregulated cerebellar circuit in the frataxin knock-in/knockout (KIKO) FRDA mouse model. At asymptomatic ages, VGLUT1 levels in cerebellar homogenates are significantly decreased, whereas VGLUT2 (SLC17A6) levels are significantly increased, in KIKO mice compared with age-matched controls. Additionally, GAD65 (GAD2) levels are significantly increased, while GAD67 (GAD1) levels remain unaltered. This suggests early VGLUT1-specific synaptic input deficits, and dysregulation of VGLUT2 and GAD65 synaptic inputs, in the cerebellum of asymptomatic KIKO mice. Immunohistochemistry and electron microscopy further show specific reductions of VGLUT1-containing PF presynaptic terminals in the cerebellar molecular layer, demonstrating PF synaptic input deficiency in asymptomatic and symptomatic KIKO mice. Moreover, the parvalbumin levels in cerebellar homogenates and Purkinje neurons are significantly reduced, but preserved in other interneurons of the cerebellar molecular layer, suggesting specific parvalbumin dysregulation in Purkinje neurons of these mice. Furthermore, a moderate loss of large principal neurons is observed in the dentate nucleus of asymptomatic KIKO mice, mimicking that of FRDA patients. Our findings thus identify early VGLUT1-specific PF synaptic input deficits and dysregulated cerebellar circuit as potential mediators of cerebellar dysfunction in KIKO mice, reflecting developmental features of FRDA in this mouse model.

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Somatic instability of the expanded GAA repeats in Friedreich's ataxia

Friedreich's ataxia (FRDA) is a genetic neurodegenerative disorder caused by transcriptional silencing of the frataxin gene (FXN) due to expansions of GAA repeats in intron 1. FRDA manifests with multiple symptoms, which may include ataxia, cardiomyopathy and diabetes mellitus. Expanded GAA tracts are genetically unstable, exhibiting both expansions and contractions. GAA length correlates with severity of FRDA symptoms and inversely with age of onset. Thus, tissue-specific somatic instability of long GAA repeats may be implicated in the development of symptoms and disease progression. The authors determined the extent of somatic instability of the GAA repeats in heart, cerebral cortex, spinal cord, cerebellar cortex, and pancreatic tissues from 15 FRDA patients. Results demonstrate differences in the lengths of the expanded GAAs among different tissues, with significantly longer GAA tracts detected in heart and pancreas than in other tissues. The expansion bias detected in heart and pancreas may contribute to disease onset and progression, making the mechanism of somatic instability an important target for therapy. Additionally, they detected significant differences in GAA tract lengths between lymphocytes and fibroblast pairs derived from 16 FRDA patients, with longer GAA tracts present in the lymphocytes. This result urges caution in direct comparisons of data obtained in these frequently used FRDA models. Furthermore, they conducted a longitudinal analysis of the GAA repeat length in lymphocytes collected over a span of 7-9 years and demonstrated progressive expansions of the GAAs with maximum gain of approximately 9 repeats per year. Continuous GAA expansions throughout the patient's lifespan, as observed in FRDA lymphocytes, should be considered in clinical trial designs and data interpretation.

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