Frataxin participates in the biosynthesis of Fe-S clusters and is considered to be essential for viability. This paper reports that when grown in 1% ambient O2, FXN null yeast, human cells, and nematodes are fully viable. In human cells, hypoxia restores steady-state levels of Fe-S clusters and normalizes ATF4, NRF2, and IRP2 signaling events associated with FRDA. Cellular studies and in vitro reconstitution indicate that hypoxia acts through HIF-independent mechanisms that increase bioavailable iron as well as directly activate Fe-S synthesis. In a mouse model of FRDA, breathing 11% O2 attenuates the progression of ataxia, whereas breathing 55% O2 hastens it. This work identifies oxygen as a key environmental variable in the pathogenesis associated with FXN depletion, with important mechanistic and therapeutic implications.
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