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Scientific News

FARA funds research progress

In this section, you will find the most recent FA research publications, many of which are funded by FARA, as well as information on upcoming conferences and symposiums. You can search for articles by date using the archive box in the right hand column. To locate FARA Funded or Supported Research, click the hyperlink in the right hand column. You may also search for specific content using key words or phrases in the search button at the top right of your screen. Please be sure to visit other key research sections of our website for information on FARA’s Grant Program and the Treatment Pipeline.

Brain structural damage in Friedreich's ataxia

Neuropathological descriptions of the brain in Friedreich's ataxia (FRDA) were obtained before availability of the current molecular genetic tests for this disease. Voxel-based morphometry (VBM) enables an unbiased whole-brain quantitative analysis of differences in gray matter (GM) and white matter (WM) volume.

Using VBM, we assessed the brain structural damage in 22 patients with genetically confirmed FRDA and 25 healthy controls. The results were correlated with the disease duration and the severity of the patients' clinical deficits--evaluated using the International Cerebellar Ataxia Rating Scale and Inherited Ataxia Clinical Rating Scale.

Read More: Brain structural damage in Friedreich's ataxia

Vestibular, saccadic and fixation abnormalities in genetically confirmed Friedreich ataxia

Friedreich ataxia (FRDA), the commonest of the inherited ataxias, is a multisystem neurodegenerative condition that affects ocular motor function. We assessed eye movement abnormalities in 20 individuals with genetically confirmed FRDA and compared these results to clinical measures. All subjects were assessed with infrared oculography. Fifteen individuals underwent a full protocol of eye movement recordings. Ten subjects were analysed using two-dimensional scleral coil equipment and five using three-dimensional scleral coil recording equipment. We also recorded visual quality of life, Sloan low contrast letter acuity and Friedreich Ataxia Rating Scale scores to compare to the visual measures. Whilst saccadic velocity was essentially normal, saccadic latency was prolonged. The latency correlated with clinical measures of disease severity, including the scores for the Friedreich Ataxia Rating Scale and the Sloan low contrast letter acuity tests.

Read More: Vestibular, saccadic and fixation abnormalities in genetically confirmed Friedreich ataxia

Major targets of iron-induced protein oxidative damage in frataxin-deficient yeasts are magnesium-binding proteins

Iron accumulation has been associated with several pathological conditions such as Friedreich ataxia. This human disorder is caused by decreased expression of frataxin. Iron-overload triggers oxidative stress, but the main targets of such stress are not known. In yeast cells lacking the frataxin ortholog YFH1, we have identified a set of 14 carbonylated proteins, which include mitochondrial ATP synthase, phosphoglycerate kinase, pyruvate kinase, and molecular chaperones. Interestingly, most of the target proteins are magnesium- and/or nucleotide-binding proteins. This key feature leads us to postulate that when iron accumulates, chelatable iron replaces magnesium at the corresponding metal-binding site, promoting selective damage to these proteins. Consistent with this hypothesis, in vitro experiments performed with pure pyruvate kinase and phosphoglycerate kinase showed that oxidation of these proteins can be prevented by magnesium and increased by the presence of ATP.

Read More: Major targets of iron-induced protein oxidative damage in frataxin-deficient yeasts

Idebenone treatment in paediatric and adult patients with Friedreich ataxia: long-term follow-up

Antioxidant therapy is a new therapeutical approach for patients with Friedreich ataxia.

To assess the effectiveness of long-term idebenone treatment in Friedreich ataxia patients.

An open-labelled prospective study. Ten paediatric patients (age range 8-18 years) and 14 adults (age range 18-46 years) with genetic diagnosis of Friedreich ataxia were treated with idebenone (5-20mg/kg/day) for 3-5 years. Neurological evolution was evaluated using the International Cooperative Ataxia Rating Scale (ICARS), and cardiological outcomes using echocardiography.

In paediatric patients, no significant differences were observed in ICARS scores and echocardiographic measurements when comparing baseline status and after 5 years of follow-up. Concerning adult cases, ICARS scores showed a significant increase in neurological dysfunctions during 3 years of therapy (Wilcoxon test, p=0.005), while echocardiographic measurements remained unchanged.

Our results indicate that longer-term idebenone treatment prevented progression of cardiomyopathy in both paediatric and adult patients, whereas its stabilizing effect on neurological dysfunction was present only in the paediatric population, mainly before puberty. This suggests that the age at which idebenone treatment is initiated may be an important factor in the effectiveness of the therapy.

Read More: Idebenone treatment in paediatric and adult patients with Friedreich ataxia: long-term follow-up

DNA triplexes and Friedreich ataxia

Friedreich ataxia, the most common inherited ataxia, is caused by the transcriptional silencing of the FXN gene, which codes for the 210 amino acid frataxin, a mitochondrial protein involved in iron-sulfur cluster biosynthesis. The expansion of the GAA x TTC tract in intron 1 to as many as 1700 repeats elicits the transcriptional silencing by the formation of non-B DNA structures (triplexes or sticky DNA), the formation of a persistent DNA x RNA hybrid, or heterochromatin formation. The triplex (sticky DNA) adopted by the long repeat sequence also elicits profound mutagenic, genetic instability, and recombination behaviors. Early stage therapeutic investigations involving polyamides or histone deacetylase inhibitors are being pursued. Friedreich ataxia may be one of the most thoroughly studied hereditary neurological disease from a pathophysiological standpoint.

Read More: DNA triplexes and Friedreich ataxia

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