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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.

Frataxin deficiency promotes endothelial senescence in pulmonary hypertension

The dynamic regulation of endothelial pathophenotypes in pulmonary hypertension (PH) remains undefined. Cellular senescence is linked to PH with intracardiac shunts; however, its regulation across PH subtypes is unknown. Since endothelial deficiency of iron-sulfur (Fe-S) clusters is pathogenic in PH, the authors hypothesized that a Fe-S biogenesis protein, frataxin (FXN), controls endothelial senescence. An endothelial subpopulation in rodent and patient lungs across PH subtypes exhibited reduced FXN and elevated senescence. In vitro, hypoxic and inflammatory FXN deficiency abrogated activity of endothelial Fe-S-containing polymerases, promoting replication stress, DNA damage response, and senescence. This was also observed in stem cell-derived endothelial cells from Friedreich's ataxia (FRDA), a genetic disease of FXN deficiency, ataxia, and cardiomyopathy, often with PH. In vivo, FXN deficiency-dependent senescence drove vessel inflammation, remodeling, and PH, while pharmacologic removal of senescent cells in Fxn-deficient rodents ameliorated PH. These data offer a model of endothelial biology in PH, where FXN deficiency generates a senescent endothelial subpopulation, promoting vascular inflammatory and proliferative signals in other cells to drive disease. These findings also establish an endothelial etiology for PH in FRDA and left heart disease and support therapeutic development of senolytic drugs, reversing effects of Fe-S deficiency across PH subtypes.

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Quantitative assessment of Friedreich Ataxia via self-drinking activity

Effective monitoring of the progression of neurodegenerative conditions can be significantly improved by objective assessments. Clinical assessments of conditions such as Friedreich's Ataxia (FA), currently rely on subjective measures commonly practiced in clinics as well as the ability of the affected individual to perform conventional tests of the neurological examination. In this study, the authors propose an ataxia measuring device, in the form of a pressure canister capable of sensing certain kinetic and kinematic parameters of interest to quantify the impairment levels of participants particularly when engaged in an activity that is closely associated with daily living. In particular, the functional task of simulated drinking was utilized to capture characteristic features of disability manifestation in terms of diagnosis (separation of individuals with FA and controls) and severity assessment of individuals diagnosed with the debilitating condition of FA. Time and frequency domain analysis of these biomarkers enabled the classification of individuals with FA and control subjects to reach an accuracy of 98\% and a correlation level reaching 96\% with the clinical scores.

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Somatic CAG expansion in Huntington's disease is dependent on the MLH3 endonuclease domain, which can be excluded via splice redirection

Somatic expansion of the CAG repeat tract that causes Huntington's disease (HD) is thought to contribute to the rate of disease pathogenesis. Therefore, factors influencing repeat expansion are potential therapeutic targets. Genes in the DNA mismatch repair pathway are critical drivers of somatic expansion in HD mouse models. Here, the authors have tested, using genetic and pharmacological approaches, the role of the endonuclease domain of the mismatch repair protein MLH3 in somatic CAG expansion in HD mice and patient cells. A point mutation in the MLH3 endonuclease domain completely eliminated CAG expansion in the brain and peripheral tissues of a HD knock-in mouse model (HttQ111). To test whether the MLH3 endonuclease could be manipulated pharmacologically, the investigators delivered splice switching oligonucleotides in mice to redirect Mlh3 splicing to exclude the endonuclease domain. Splice redirection to an isoform lacking the endonuclease domain was associated with reduced CAG expansion. Finally, CAG expansion in HD patient-derived primary fibroblasts was also significantly reduced by redirecting MLH3 splicing to the endogenous endonuclease domain-lacking isoform. These data indicate the potential of targeting the MLH3 endonuclease domain to slow somatic CAG repeat expansion in HD, a therapeutic strategy that may be applicable across multiple repeat expansion disorders.

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The Role of Serum Levels of Neurofilament Light (NfL) Chain as a Biomarker in Friedreich Ataxia

Several studies suggest that NfL is a promising biomarker for determining the stage of disease, tracking progression and aiding in identification of disease-modifying treatments in neurological disorders. This paper reviews present data on serum NfL in Friedreich ataxia (FRDA), discusses the complex relationship of NfL levels to disease progression and suggests that a deeper understanding of the mechanisms of NfL elevation in serum in FRDA is needed to make it a useful biomarker in FRDA.

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In vivo survival and differentiation of Friedreich ataxia iPSC-derived sensory neurons transplanted in the adult dorsal root ganglia

To explore cell replacement therapies as a possible approach to treat Friedreich ataxia (FRDA), this study examined transplantation of sensory neural progenitors derived from human embryonic stem cells (hESC) and FRDA induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) into adult rodent DRG regions. The data showed survival and differentiation of hESC and FRDA iPSC-derived progenitors in the DRG 2 and 8 weeks post-transplantation, respectively. Donor cells expressed neuronal markers, including sensory and glial markers, demonstrating differentiation to these lineages. These results are novel and a highly significant first step in showing the possibility of using stem cells as a cell replacement therapy to treat DRG neurodegeneration in FRDA as well as other peripheral neuropathies.

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