Mouse models for Friedreich ataxia exhibit cardiomyopathy, sensory nerve defect and Fe-S enzyme deficiency followed by intramitochondrial iron deposits

Nat Genet. 2001 Feb;27(2):181-6. doi: 10.1038/84818.


Friedreich ataxia (FRDA), the most common autosomal recessive ataxia, is characterized by degeneration of the large sensory neurons and spinocerebellar tracts, cardiomyopathy and increased incidence in diabetes. FRDA is caused by severely reduced levels of frataxin, a mitochondrial protein of unknown function. Yeast knockout models as well as histological and biochemical data from heart biopsies or autopsies of FRDA patients have shown that frataxin defects cause a specific iron-sulfur protein deficiency and intramitochondrial iron accumulation. We have recently shown that complete absence of frataxin in the mouse leads to early embryonic lethality, demonstrating an important role for frataxin during mouse development. Through a conditional gene-targeting approach, we have generated in parallel a striated muscle frataxin-deficient line and a neuron/cardiac muscle frataxin-deficient line, which together reproduce important progressive pathophysiological and biochemical features of the human disease: cardiac hypertrophy without skeletal muscle involvement, large sensory neuron dysfunction without alteration of the small sensory and motor neurons, and deficient activities of complexes I-III of the respiratory chain and of the aconitases. Our models demonstrate time-dependent intramitochondrial iron accumulation in a frataxin-deficient mammal, which occurs after onset of the pathology and after inactivation of the Fe-S-dependent enzymes. These mutant mice represent the first mammalian models to evaluate treatment strategies for the human disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cardiomyopathies / genetics*
  • Cardiomyopathies / pathology
  • Friedreich Ataxia / genetics*
  • Friedreich Ataxia / pathology
  • Gene Targeting
  • Hereditary Sensory and Autonomic Neuropathies / genetics*
  • Hereditary Sensory and Autonomic Neuropathies / pathology
  • Iron-Binding Proteins*
  • Iron-Sulfur Proteins / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Mutant Strains
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Mutagenesis
  • Phosphotransferases (Alcohol Group Acceptor) / genetics*


  • Iron-Binding Proteins
  • Iron-Sulfur Proteins
  • frataxin
  • Phosphotransferases (Alcohol Group Acceptor)