In this study, the authors examined the metabolic, neuroprotective and frataxin-inducing effects of glucagon-like-peptide 1 (GLP-1) analogs in in vivo and in vitro models and in Friedreich ataxia patients. The GLP-1 analog exenatide improved glucose homeostasis of frataxin-deficient mice through enhanced insulin content and secretion in pancreatic β-cells. Exenatide induced frataxin and iron-sulfur cluster-containing proteins in β-cells and brain, and was protective to sensory neurons in dorsal root ganglia. GLP-1 analogs also induced frataxin expression, reduced oxidative stress and improved mitochondrial function in Friedreich ataxia patients' induced pluripotent stem cell-derived β-cells and sensory neurons. The frataxin-inducing effect of exenatide was confirmed in a pilot trial in Friedreich ataxia patients, showing modest frataxin induction in platelets over a 5-week treatment course. Taken together, GLP-1 analogs improve mitochondrial function in frataxin-deficient cells and induce frataxin expression. These findings identify incretin receptors as a therapeutic target in Friedreich ataxia.
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