Drug repositioning screening identifies etravirine as a potential therapeutic for friedreich's ataxia

Mov Disord. 2019 Mar;34(3):323-334. doi: 10.1002/mds.27604. Epub 2019 Jan 9.


Background: Friedreich's ataxia is an autosomal-recessive cerebellar ataxia caused by mutation of the frataxin gene, resulting in decreased frataxin expression, mitochondrial dysfunction, and oxidative stress. Currently, no treatment is available for Friedreich's ataxia patients. Given that levels of residual frataxin critically affect disease severity, the main goal of a specific therapy for Friedreich's ataxia is to increase frataxin levels.

Objectives: With the aim to accelerate the development of a new therapy for Friedreich's ataxia, we took a drug repositioning approach to identify market-available drugs able to increase frataxin levels.

Methods: Using a cell-based reporter assay to monitor variation in frataxin amount, we performed a high-throughput screening of a library containing 853 U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs.

Results: Among the potentially interesting candidates isolated from the screening, we focused our attention on etravirine, an antiviral drug currently in use as an anti-human immunodeficiency virus therapy. Here, we show that etravirine can promote a significant increase in frataxin levels in cells derived from Friedreich's ataxia patients, by enhancing frataxin messenger RNA translation. Importantly, frataxin accumulation in treated patient cell lines is comparable to frataxin levels in unaffected carrier cells, suggesting that etravirine could be therapeutically relevant. Indeed, etravirine treatment restores the activity of the iron-sulphur cluster containing enzyme aconitase and confers resistance to oxidative stress in cells derived from Friedreich's ataxia patients.

Conclusions: Considering its excellent safety profile along with its ability to increase frataxin levels and correct some of the disease-related defects, etravirine represents a promising candidate as a therapeutic for Friedreich's ataxia. © 2019 International Parkinson and Movement Disorder Society.

Keywords: Friedreich's ataxia; drug repositioning; etravirine; frataxin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line
  • Drug Evaluation, Preclinical
  • Drug Repositioning
  • Friedreich Ataxia / drug therapy*
  • Friedreich Ataxia / genetics
  • Friedreich Ataxia / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Iron-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • Iron-Binding Proteins / metabolism*
  • Nitriles
  • Pyridazines / therapeutic use*
  • Pyrimidines


  • Iron-Binding Proteins
  • Nitriles
  • Pyridazines
  • Pyrimidines
  • frataxin
  • etravirine