Friedreich ataxia: neuropathology revised

J Neuropathol Exp Neurol. 2013 Feb;72(2):78-90. doi: 10.1097/NEN.0b013e31827e5762.

Abstract

Friedreich ataxia is an autosomal recessive disorder that affects children and young adults. The mutation consists of a homozygous guanine-adenine-adenine trinucleotide repeat expansion that causes deficiency of frataxin, a small nuclear genome-encoded mitochondrial protein. Low frataxin levels lead to insufficient biosynthesis of iron-sulfur clusters that are required for mitochondrial electron transport and assembly of functional aconitase, and iron dysmetabolism of the entire cell. This review of the neuropathology of Friedreich ataxia stresses the critical role of hypoplasia and superimposed atrophy of dorsal root ganglia. Progressive destruction of dorsal root ganglia accounts for thinning of dorsal roots, degeneration of dorsal columns, transsynaptic atrophy of nerve cells in Clarke column and dorsal spinocerebellar fibers, atrophy of gracile and cuneate nuclei, and neuropathy of sensory nerves. The lesion of the dentate nucleus consists of progressive and selective atrophy of large glutamatergic neurons and grumose degeneration of corticonuclear synaptic terminals that contain γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Small GABA-ergic neurons and their projection fibers in the dentato-olivary tract survive. Atrophy of Betz cells and corticospinal tracts constitute a second intrinsic CNS lesion. In light of the selective vulnerability of organs and tissues to systemic frataxin deficiency, many questions about the pathogenesis of Friedreich ataxia remain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Atrophy / etiology
  • Atrophy / pathology
  • Cerebellar Nuclei / pathology
  • Friedreich Ataxia / genetics
  • Friedreich Ataxia / pathology*
  • GABAergic Neurons / pathology
  • Ganglia, Spinal / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Iron-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • Iron-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Pyramidal Tracts / pathology*
  • Trinucleotide Repeat Expansion / genetics

Substances

  • Iron-Binding Proteins
  • frataxin