Friedreich ataxia (FRDA) is an autosomal recessive neurodegenerative disorder with subtle impact on cognition. Inhibitory processes and cognitive flexibility were examined in FRDA by assessing the ability to suppress a predictable verbal response. We administered the Hayling Sentence Completion Test (HSCT), the Trail Making Test, and the Stroop Test to 43 individuals with FRDA and 42 gender- and age-matched control participants. There were no significant group differences in performance on the Stroop or Trail Making Test whereas significant impairment in cognitive flexibility including the ability to predict and inhibit a pre-potent response as measured in the HSCT was evident in individuals with FRDA. These deficits did not correlate with clinical characteristics of FRDA (age of disease onset, disease duration, number of guanine-adenine-adenine repeats on the shorter or larger FXN allele, or Friedreich Ataxia Rating Scale score), suggesting that such impairment may not be related to the disease process in a straightforward way. The observed specific impairment of inhibition and predictive capacity in individuals with FRDA on the HSCT task, in the absence of impairment in associated executive functions, supports cerebellar dysfunction in conjunction with disturbance to cortico-thalamo-cerebellar connectivity, perhaps via inability to access frontal areas necessary for successful task completion.
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