Time-resolved functional analysis of acute impairment of frataxin expression in an inducible cell model of Friedreich ataxia

Biol Open. 2016 May 15;5(5):654-61. doi: 10.1242/bio.017004.


Friedreich ataxia is a neurodegenerative disease caused by a GAA triplet repeat expansion in the first intron of the frataxin gene, which results in reduced expression levels of the corresponding protein. Despite numerous animal and cellular models, therapeutic options that mechanistically address impaired frataxin expression are lacking. Here, we have developed a new mammalian cell model employing the Cre/loxP recombination system to induce a homozygous or heterozygous frataxin knockout in mouse embryonic fibroblasts. Induction of Cre-mediated disruption by tamoxifen was successfully tested on RNA and protein levels. After loss of frataxin protein, cell division, aconitase activity and oxygen consumption rates were found to be decreased, while ROS production was increased in the homozygous state. By contrast, in the heterozygous state no such changes were observed. A time-resolved analysis revealed the loss of aconitase activity as an initial event after induction of complete frataxin deficiency, followed by secondarily elevated ROS production and a late increase in iron content. Initial impairments of oxygen consumption and ATP production were found to be compensated in the late state and seemed to play a minor role in Friedreich ataxia pathophysiology. In conclusion and as predicted from its proposed role in iron sulfur cluster (ISC) biosynthesis, disruption of frataxin primarily causes impaired function of ISC-containing enzymes, whereas other consequences, including elevated ROS production and iron accumulation, appear secondary. These parameters and the robustness of the newly established system may additionally be used for a time-resolved study of pharmacological candidates in a HTS manner.

Keywords: Frataxin; Friedreich ataxia; HTS; Iron sulfur cluster biosynthesis; Mammalian cell model; ROS.