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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.

Systematic Review: Quantitative Susceptibility Mapping (QSM) of Brain Iron Profile in Neurodegenerative Diseases

Iron has been increasingly implicated in the pathology of neurodegenerative diseases. In the past decade, development of the new magnetic resonance imaging technique, quantitative susceptibility mapping (QSM), has enabled for the more comprehensive investigation of iron distribution in the brain. The aim of this systematic review was to provideaa synthesis of the findings from existing QSM studies in neurodegenerative diseases. The authors identified 80 records by searching MEDLINE, Embase, Scopus, and PsycInfo databases. The disorders investigated in these studies included Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Wilson's disease, Huntington's disease, Friedreich's ataxia, spinocerebellar ataxia, Fabry disease, myotonic dystrophy, pantothenate-kinase-associated neurodegeneration, and mitochondrial membrane protein-associated neurodegeneration. As a general pattern, QSM revealed increased magnetic susceptibility (suggestive of increased iron content) in the brain regions associated with the pathology of each disorder, such as the amygdala and caudate nucleus in Alzheimer's disease, the substantia nigra in Parkinson's disease, motor cortex in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, basal ganglia in Huntington's disease, and cerebellar dentate nucleus in Friedreich's ataxia. Furthermore, the increased magnetic susceptibility correlated with disease duration and severity of clinical features in some disorders. Although the number of studies is still limited in most of the neurodegenerative diseases, the existing evidence suggests that QSM can be a promising tool in the investigation of neurodegeneration.

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Ectopic Burden via Holter Monitors in Friedreich Ataxia

Nearly 60% of deaths Friedreich ataxia are cardiac in nature, with one in eight deaths due to arrhythmia. Additional or irregular heartbeats, measured as ectopy, can be quantified using portable heart rhythm monitoring. This study sought to describe the ectopic burden in Friedreich ataxia. Using a natural history study of patients with Friedreich ataxia at a single center, this group analyzed portable heart rhythm monitors (Holters). Ectopic burden was defined as the proportion of atrial or ventricular ectopic beats over total beats. Of 456 patients, 131 had Holters. Sixty-eight (52.0%) were male, median age of symptom onset was 8.0 years (5.0 to 13.0, n = 111), median age at time of Holter was 17.3 years (interquartile range [IQR] 12.9 to 22.8, n = 129), and median duration of illness was 8.7 years (IQR 5.3 to 11.6, n = 110). Median GAA length on the shorter FXN allele was 706.0 (IQR 550.0 to 840.0, n = 112). Eight (7.8%, n = 103) had diminished cardiac function, and 74 (74.0%, n = 100) had ventricular hypertrophy. Ninety patients (83.0%) had atrial ectopy (supraventricular ectopy [SVE]): 85 (78.0%) with rare SVE (>0% to 5%) and five (5.0%) with frequent SVE (>10%). Twenty-five (19.0%) had supraventricular runs, and one (0.8%) had atrial fibrillation/flutter. Forty-five (41.0%) had ventricular ectopy (VE): 43 (39.0%) with rare VE (0% to 5%) and two (2.0%) with moderate VE (5% to 10%). Compared with patients with none and rare SVE, patients with frequent SVE had longer disease duration (18.3 versus 4.6 versus 9.0 years, P = 0.0005). Heart rhythm monitoring may be considered for risk stratification; however, longitudinal analysis is needed.

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Crosstalk between nucleus and mitochondria in human disease: Mitochondrial iron and calcium homeostasis in Friedreich ataxia

Evidence indicate that frataxin deficiency causes an unbalance of iron homeostasis. Nevertheless, in the last decade many results also highlighted the importance of calcium unbalance in the deleterious downstream effects caused by frataxin deficiency. In this review, the role of these two metals has been gathered to give a whole view of how iron and calcium dyshomeostasys impacts on cellular functions and, as a result, which strategies can be followed to find an effective therapy for the disease.

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Frataxins Emerge as New Players of the Intracellular Antioxidant Machinery

The lack of frataxin induces the dysregulation of mitochondrial iron homeostasis and oxidative stress, which finally causes the neuronal death. The mechanism through which frataxin regulates the oxidative stress balance is rather complex and poorly understood. While the absence of human (Hfra) and yeast (Yfh1) frataxins renders cells sensitive to oxidative stress, this does not occur when the frataxin gene is knocked-out in E. coli. To better understand the biological roles of Hfra and Yfh1 as endogenous antioxidants, this group has studied their ability to inhibit the formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) from Cu2+- and Fe3+-catalyzed degradation of ascorbic acid. Both proteins drastically reduce the formation of ROS, and during this process they are not oxidized. In addition, they have also demonstrated that merely the presence of Yfh1 or Hfra is enough to protect a highly oxidation-prone protein such as α-synuclein. This unspecific intervention (without a direct binding) suggests that frataxins could act as a shield to prevent the oxidation of a broad set of intracellular proteins and reinforces that idea that frataxin can be used to prevent neurological pathologies linked to an enhanced oxidative stress.

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Future Prospects of Gene Therapy for Friedreich's Ataxia

A plausible therapeutic approach for Friedreich's ataxia is gene therapy. Indeed, Friedreich's ataxia mouse models have been treated with viral vectors encoding for either FXN or neurotrophins, such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor showing promising results. Thus, gene therapy is increasingly consolidating as one of the most promising therapies. However, several hurdles have to be overcome, including immunotoxicity and pheno-toxicity. This paper reviews the state of the art of gene therapy in Friedreich's ataxia, addressing the main challenges and the most feasible solutions for them.

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