Antioxidant treatment improves in vivo cardiac and skeletal muscle bioenergetics in patients with Friedreich's ataxia

Ann Neurol. 2001 May;49(5):590-6.


Friedreich's ataxia (FA) is the most common form of autosomal recessive spinocerebellar ataxia and is often associated with a cardiomyopathy. The disease is caused by an expanded intronic GAA repeat, which results in deficiency of a mitochondrial protein called frataxin. In the yeast YFH1 knockout model of the disease there is evidence that frataxin deficiency leads to a severe defect of mitochondrial respiration, intramitochondrial iron accumulation, and associated production of oxygen free radicals. Recently, the analysis of FA cardiac and skeletal muscle samples and in vivo phosphorus magnetic resonance spectroscopy (31P-MRS) has confirmed the deficits of respiratory chain complexes in these tissues. The role of oxidative stress in FA is further supported by the accumulation of iron and decreased aconitase activities in cardiac muscle. We used 31P-MRS to evaluate the effect of 6 months of antioxidant treatment (Coenzyme Q10 400 mg/day, vitamin E 2,100 IU/day) on cardiac and calf muscle energy metabolism in 10 FA patients. After only 3 months of treatment, the cardiac phosphocreatine to ATP ratio showed a mean relative increase to 178% (p = 0.03) and the maximum rate of skeletal muscle mitochondrial ATP production increased to 139% (p = 0.01) of their respective baseline values in the FA patients. These improvements, greater in prehypertrophic hearts and in the muscle of patients with longer GAA repeats, were sustained after 6 months of therapy. The neurological and echocardiographic evaluations did not show any consistent benefits of the therapy after 6 months. This study demonstrates partial reversal of a surrogate biochemical marker in FA with antioxidant therapy and supports the evaluation of such therapy as a disease-modifying strategy in this neurodegenerative disorder.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Antioxidants / therapeutic use*
  • Echocardiography
  • Energy Metabolism*
  • Female
  • Friedreich Ataxia / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Kinetics
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy
  • Male
  • Muscles / metabolism*
  • Myocardium / metabolism*
  • Time Factors


  • Antioxidants