There is no current approved therapy for the ultimately lethal neuro- and cardio-degenerative disease Friedreich's ataxia (FA). Finding minimally-invasive molecular biomarkers of disease progression and drug effect could support smaller, shorter clinical trials. Since we and others have noted a deficient oxidative stress response in FA, we investigated the expression of 84 genes involved in oxidative stress, signaling, and protection in control and FA lymphoblasts ranging from 460 to 1122 GAA repeats. Several antioxidant genes responded in a dose-dependent manner to frataxin expression at the mRNA and protein levels, which is inversely correlated with disease progression and severity. We tested the effect of experimental Friedreich's ataxia therapies dimethyl fumarate (DMF) and type 1 histone deacetylase inhibitor (HDACi) on biomarker mRNA expression. We observed that exposure of lymphoblasts to DMF and HDACi dose-dependently unsilenced frataxin expression and restored the potential biomarkers NCF2 and PDLIM1 expression to control levels. We suggest that in addition to frataxin expression, blood lymphoblast levels of NCF2 and PDLIM1 could be useful biomarkers for disease progression and drug effect in future clinical trials of Friedreich's ataxia.
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