Friedreich ataxia- pathogenesis and implications for therapies

Neurobiol Dis. 2019 Dec:132:104606. doi: 10.1016/j.nbd.2019.104606. Epub 2019 Sep 5.


Friedreich ataxia is the most common of the hereditary ataxias. It is due to homozygous/compound heterozygous mutations in FXN. This gene encodes frataxin, a protein largely localized to mitochondria. In about 96% of affected individuals there is homozygosity for a GAA repeat expansion in intron 1 of the FXN gene. Studies of people with Friedreich ataxia and of animal and cell models, have provided much insight into the pathogenesis of this disorder. The expanded GAA repeat leads to transcriptional deficiency of the FXN gene. The consequent deficiency of frataxin protein leads to reduced iron-sulfur cluster biogenesis and mitochondrial ATP production, elevated mitochondrial iron, and oxidative stress. More recently, a role for inflammation has emerged as being important in the pathogenesis of Friedreich ataxia. These findings have led to a number of potential therapies that have been subjected to clinical trials or are being developed toward human studies. Therapies that have been proposed include pharmaceuticals that increase frataxin levels, protein and gene replacement therapies, antioxidants, iron chelators and modulators of inflammation. Whilst no therapies have yet been approved for Friedreich ataxia, there is much optimism that the advances in the understanding of the pathogenesis of this disorder since the discovery its genetic basis, will result in approved disease modifying therapies in the near future.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Friedreich Ataxia / genetics
  • Friedreich Ataxia / physiopathology*
  • Friedreich Ataxia / therapy*
  • Humans