Pharmacotherapy for Friedreich ataxia

CNS Drugs. 2009;23(3):213-23. doi: 10.2165/00023210-200923030-00003.


Friedreich ataxia (FA) is a progressive genetic neurological disorder associated with degeneration of the dorsal columns, spinocerebellar tracts and other regions of the nervous system. The disorder results from mutations in the gene referred to as FXN. Almost all mutations are expansions of an intronic GAA repeat in this gene, which gives rise to decreased transcription of the gene product (called frataxin). Following these discoveries, drug discovery has moved at a rapid pace. Therapeutic trials in the next 5 years are expected to address amelioration of the effects of frataxin deficiency and methods for increasing frataxin expression. These therapies are directed at all levels of biochemical dysfunction in FA. Agents such as idebenone potentially improve mitochondrial function and decrease production of reactive oxygen species. Idebenone is presently in a phase III trial in the US and in Europe, with the primary outcome measure being neurological function. Deferiprone, an atypical iron chelator, may decrease build-up of toxic iron in the mitochondria in patients. It has entered a phase II trial in Europe, Australia and Canada directed toward improvement of neurological abilities. Finally, targeted histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors and erythropoietin increase levels of frataxin when used in vitro, suggesting that they may provide methods for increasing frataxin levels in patients. Erythropoietin has been tested in a small phase II trial in Austria, while HDAC inhibitors are still at a preclinical stage. Symptomatic therapies are also in use for specific symptoms such as spasticity (baclofen). Thus, there is substantial optimism for development of new therapies for FA in the near future, and we suggest that one or several may be available over the next few years. However, continued development of new therapies will require creation of new, more sensitive measures for neurological dysfunction in FA, and clinically relevant measures of cardiac dysfunction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antioxidants / therapeutic use
  • Deferiprone
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Erythropoietin / therapeutic use
  • Friedreich Ataxia / drug therapy*
  • Friedreich Ataxia / genetics
  • Friedreich Ataxia / pathology
  • Histone Deacetylase Inhibitors
  • Humans
  • Iron Chelating Agents / therapeutic use
  • Organophosphorus Compounds / therapeutic use
  • Pyridones / therapeutic use
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Ubiquinone / analogs & derivatives
  • Ubiquinone / therapeutic use


  • Antioxidants
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Histone Deacetylase Inhibitors
  • Iron Chelating Agents
  • Organophosphorus Compounds
  • Pyridones
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Erythropoietin
  • Ubiquinone
  • Deferiprone
  • mitoquinone
  • idebenone