Mishra P, Sivakumar A, Johnson A, Pernaci C, Warden AS, El-Hachem LR, Hansen E, Badell-Grau RA, Khare V, Ramirez G, Gillette S, Solis AB, Guo P, Coufal N, Cherqui S.

The authors have previously demonstrated that single infusion of wild-type hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (HSPCs) resulted in prevention of neurologic and cardiac complications of FRDA in YG8R mice, and rescue was mediated by FXN transfer from tissue engrafted, HSPC-derived microglia/macrophages to diseased neurons/myocytes. For a future clinical translation, an autologous stem cell transplantation approach was developed using CRISPR/Cas9 for the excision of the GAA repeats in FRDA patients' CD34+ HSPCs; this strategy leading to increased FXN expression and improved mitochondrial functions. The aim of the current study is to validate the efficiency and safety of this gene editing approach in a disease-relevant model. The investigators generated a cohort of FRDA patient-derived iPSCs and isogenic lines that were gene edited with our CRISPR/Cas9 approach. iPSC derived FRDA neurons displayed characteristic apoptotic and mitochondrial phenotype of the disease, such as non-homogenous microtubule staining in neurites, increased caspase-3 expression, mitochondrial superoxide levels, mitochondrial fragmentation, and partial degradation of the cristae compared to healthy controls. These defects were fully prevented in the gene edited neurons. RNASeq analysis of FRDA and gene edited neurons demonstrated striking improvement in gene clusters associated with endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress in the isogenic lines. Gene edited neurons demonstrated improved ER-calcium release, normalization of ER stress response gene, XBP-1, and significantly increased ER-mitochondrial contacts that are critical for functional homeostasis of both organelles, as compared to FRDA neurons. Ultrastructural analysis for these contact sites displayed severe ER structural damage in FRDA neurons, that was undetected in gene edited neurons. Taken together, these results represent a novel finding for disease pathogenesis showing dramatic ER structural damage in FRDA, validate the efficacy profile of FXN gene editing approach in a disease relevant model, and support this approach as an effective strategy for therapeutic intervention for Friedreich's ataxia.

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