Friedreich's ataxia (FRDA) is an autosomal recessive trinucleotide repeat disease with no effective therapy. Expanded GAA repeats in the first intron of the FRDA gene are thought to form unusual non-B DNA conformations that decrease transcription and subsequently reduce levels of the encoded protein, frataxin. Frataxin plays a crucial role in iron metabolism and detoxification. To discover small molecules that increase transcription through the GAA repeat region in FRDA, we have made stable cell lines containing a portion of expanded intron 1 fused to a GFP reporter. Small molecules identified using the competition dialysis method were found to increase FRDA-intron 1-reporter gene expression. One of these compounds, pentamidine, increases frataxin levels in patient cells. Thus our approach can be used to detect small molecules of potential therapeutic value in FRDA.