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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.

Mitochondrial dysfunction in the development and progression of neurodegenerative diseases

In addition to ATP synthesis, mitochondria are highly dynamic organelles that modulate apoptosis, ferroptosis, and inflammasome activation. Through executing these varied functions, the mitochondria play critical roles in the development and progression of neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer disease, Parkinson disease, Huntington disease, and Friedreich ataxia, among others. Impaired mitochondrial biogenesis and abnormal mitochondrial dynamics contribute to mitochondrial dysfunction in these diseases. Additionally, dysfunctional mitochondria play critical roles in signaling for both inflammasome activation and ferroptosis. Therapeutics are being developed to circumvent inflammasome activation and ferroptosis in dysfunctional mitochondria. Targeting these aspects of mitochondrial dysfunction may present viable therapeutic strategies for combating the neurodegenerative diseases. This review aims to summarize the role of the mitochondria in the development and progression of neurodegenerative diseases and to present current therapeutic approaches that target mitochondrial dysfunction in these diseases.

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Central Nervous System Therapeutic Targets in Friedreich Ataxia

Friedreich ataxia (FRDA) is an autosomal recessive inherited multisystem disease, characterized by marked differences in the vulnerability of neuronal systems. In general, the proprioceptive system appears to be affected early, while later in the disease the dentate nucleus of the cerebellum and, to some degree, the corticospinal tracts degenerate. In the current era of expanding therapeutic discovery in FRDA, including progress towards novel gene therapies, a deeper and more specific consideration of potential treatment targets in the nervous system is necessary. In the present work, we have re-examined the neuropathology of FRDA, recognizing new issues superimposed on classical findings and dissected the peripheral nervous system (PNS) and central nervous system (CNS) aspects of the disease and the affected cell types. Understanding the temporal course of neuropathological changes is needed to identify areas of modifiable disease progression and the CNS and PNS locations that can be targeted at different timepoints. As most major targets of long-term therapy are in the CNS, the present review uses multiple tools for evaluation of the importance of specific CNS locations as targets. In addition to clinical observations, the conceptualizations here include physiological, pathological and imaging approaches, and animal models. This review, through analysis of a more complete set of data derived from multiple techniques, provides a comprehensive summary of therapeutic targets in FRDA.

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High Levels of Frataxin Overexpression Lead to Mitochondrial and Cardiac Toxicity in Mouse Models

Cardiac dysfunction is the main cause of premature death in Friedreich ataxia (FA). Adeno-associated virus (AAV)-mediated gene therapy constitutes a promising approach for FA, as demonstrated in cardiac and neurological mouse models. While the minimal therapeutic level of FXN protein to be restored and biodistribution have recently been defined for the heart, it is unclear if FXN overexpression could be harmful. Indeed, depending on the vector delivery route and dose administered, the resulting FXN protein level could reach very high levels in the heart, cerebellum, or off-target organs such as the liver. The present study demonstrates safety of FXN cardiac overexpression up to 9-fold the normal endogenous level but significant toxicity to the mitochondria and heart above 20-fold. The authors show gradual severity with increasing FXN overexpression, ranging from subclinical cardiotoxicity to left ventricle dysfunction. This appears to be driven by impairment of the mitochondria respiratory chain and ultrastructure, which leads to cardiomyocyte subcellular disorganization, cell death, and fibrosis. Overall, this study underlines the need, during the development of gene therapy approaches, to consider appropriate vector expression level, long-term safety, and biomarkers to monitor such events.

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The Nrf2 induction prevents ferroptosis in Friedreich's Ataxia

Ferroptosis is an iron-dependent cell death caused by impaired glutathione metabolism, lipid peroxidation and mitochondrial failure. Emerging evidences report a role for ferroptosis in Friedreich's Ataxia (FRDA), a neurodegenerative disease caused by the decreased expression of the mitochondrial protein frataxin. Nrf2 signalling is implicated in many molecular aspects of ferroptosis, by upstream regulating glutathione homeostasis, mitochondrial function and lipid metabolism. As Nrf2 is down-regulated in FRDA, targeting Nrf2-mediated ferroptosis in FRDA may be an attractive option to counteract neurodegeneration in such disease, thus paving the way to new therapeutic opportunities. In this study, the authors evaluated ferroptosis hallmarks in frataxin-silenced mouse myoblasts, in hearts of a frataxin Knockin/Knockout (KIKO) mouse model, in skin fibroblasts and blood of patients, particularly focusing on ferroptosis-driven gene expression, mitochondrial impairment and lipid peroxidation. The efficacy of Nrf2 inducers to neutralize ferroptosis has been also evaluated.

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An Overview of the Ferroptosis Hallmarks in Friedreich's Ataxia

Friedreich's ataxia (FRDA) is caused by reduced levels of frataxin, a mitochondrial protein involved in the synthesis of iron-sulfur clusters, leading to iron accumulation at the mitochondrial level, uncontrolled production of reactive oxygen species and lipid peroxidation. These features are also common to ferroptosis, an iron-mediated type of cell death triggered by accumulation of lipoperoxides with distinct morphological and molecular characteristics with respect to other known cell deaths. Even though ferroptosis has been associated with various neurodegenerative diseases including FRDA, the mechanisms leading to disease onset/progression have not been demonstrated yet. Here the authors describe the molecular alterations occurring in FRDA that overlap with those characterizing ferroptosis. The study of ferroptotic pathways is necessary for the understanding of FRDA pathogenesis, and anti-ferroptotic drugs could be envisaged as therapeutic strategies to cure FRDA.

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