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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.

Folding and Dynamics are Strongly pH-Dependent in a Psychrophile Frataxin

Protein dynamics, folding, and thermodynamics represent a central aspect of biophysical chemistry. pH, temperature, and denaturant perturbations inform our understanding of diverse contributors to stability and rates. In this work, a thermodynamic analysis using a combined experimental and computational approach to gain insights into the role of electrostatics in the folding reaction of a psychrophile frataxin variant from Psychromonas ingrahamii. The folding reaction is strongly modulated by pH with a single, narrow and well-defined transition state with ~80% compactness, ~70% electrostatic interactions and ~60% hydration shell compared to the native state (αD=0.82, αH=0.67 and αΔCp=0.59). Molecular dynamics simulations showed that these pH modulation could be explained by the fluctuations of two regions, rich in electrostatic contacts, whose dynamics are pH-dependent and motions are strongly correlated. Results presented herein contribute to the understanding of the stability and dynamics of this frataxin variant, pointing to an intrinsic feature of the family topology to support different folding mechanism.

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Exploring iron-binding to human frataxin and to selected Friedreich ataxia mutants by means of NMR and EPR spectroscopies

The neurodegenerative disease Friedreich ataxia results from a deficiency of frataxin, a mitochondrial protein. Most patients have a GAA expansion in the first intron of both alleles of frataxin gene, whereas a minority of them are heterozygous for the expansion and contain a mutation in the other allele. Frataxin has been claimed to participate in iron homeostasis and biosynthesis of FeS clusters, however its role in both pathways is not unequivocally defined. In this work we combined different advanced spectroscopic analyses to explore the iron-binding properties of human frataxin, as isolated and at the FeS clusters assembly machinery. For the first time we used EPR spectroscopy to address this key issue providing clear evidence of the formation of a complex with a low symmetry coordination of the metal ion. By 2D NMR, we confirmed that iron can be bound in both oxidation states, a controversial issue, and, in addition, we were able to point out a transient interaction of frataxin with a N-terminal 6his-tagged variant of ISCU, the scaffold protein of the FeS clusters assembly machinery. To obtain insights on structure/function relationships relevant to understand the disease molecular mechanism(s), we extended our studies to four clinical frataxin mutants. All variants showed a moderate to strong impairment in their ability to activate the FeS cluster assembly machinery in vitro, while keeping the same iron-binding features of the wild type protein. This supports the multifunctional nature of frataxin and the complex biochemical consequences of its mutations.

Read the entire article HERE

Molecular Mechanisms and Therapeutics for the GAA·TTC Expansion Disease Friedreich Ataxia

Friedreich ataxia (FA), the most common inherited ataxia, is caused by transcriptional silencing of the nuclear FXN gene, encoding the essential mitochondrial protein frataxin. Currently, there is no approved therapy for this fatal disorder. Gene silencing in FA is due to hyperexpansion of the triplet repeat sequence GAA·TTC in the first intron of the FXN gene, which results in chromatin histone modifications consistent with heterochromatin formation. Frataxin is involved in mitochondrial iron homeostasis and the assembly and transfer of iron-sulfur clusters to various mitochondrial enzymes and components of the electron transport chain. Frataxin insufficiency leads to progressive spinocerebellar neurodegeneration, causing symptoms of gait and limb ataxia, slurred speech, muscle weakness, sensory loss, and cardiomyopathy in many patients that may cause death in early adulthood. Numerous approaches are being taken to find a treatment for FA, including excision or correction of the repeats by genome engineering methods, gene activation with small molecules or artificial transcription factors, delivery of frataxin to affected cells by protein replacement therapy, gene therapy, or small molecules to increase frataxin protein levels, and therapies aimed at countering the cellular consequences of reduced frataxin. This review will summarize the mechanisms involved in repeat-mediated gene silencing and recent efforts aimed at development of therapeutics.

Read the entire article HERE

New developments in pharmacotherapy for Friedreich ataxia

Current and emerging therapies for Friedrich's Ataxia (FA) focus on reversing the deleterious effects of such deficiency including mitochondrial augmentation and increasing frataxin levels, providing the possibility of treatment options for this physiologically complex, multisystem disorder. In this review article, the authors discuss the current and prior in vivo and in vitro research studies related to the treatment of FA, with a particular interest in future implications of each therapy. Since the discovery of FXN in 1996, multiple clinical trials have occurred or are currently occurring; at a rapid pace for a rare disease. These trials have been directed at the augmentation of mitochondrial function and/or alleviation of symptoms and are not regarded as potential cures in FA. Either a combination of therapies or a drug that replaces or increases the pathologically low levels of frataxin better represent potential cures in FA.

Read the entire article HERE

The current state of biomarker research for Friedreich's ataxia: a report from the 2018 FARA biomarker meeting

The 2018 FARA Biomarker Meeting highlighted the current state of development of biomarkers for Friedreich's ataxia. A mass spectroscopy assay to sensitively measure mature frataxin (reduction of which is the root cause of disease) is being developed. Biomarkers to monitor neurological disease progression include imaging, electrophysiological measures and measures of nerve function, which may be measured either in serum and/or through imaging-based technologies. Potential pharmacodynamic biomarkers include metabolic and protein biomarkers and markers of nerve damage. Cardiac imaging and serum biomarkers may reflect cardiac disease progression. Considerable progress has been made in the development of biomarkers for various contexts of use, but further work is needed in terms of larger longitudinal multisite studies, and identification of novel biomarkers for additional use cases.

Read the entire article HERE

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