PPAR gamma agonist leriglitazone improves frataxin-loss impairments in cellular and animal models of Friedreich Ataxia

Neurobiol Dis. 2021 Jan;148:105162. doi: 10.1016/j.nbd.2020.105162. Epub 2020 Nov 7.


Friedreich ataxia (FRDA), the most common autosomal recessive ataxia, is characterized by degeneration of the large sensory neurons and spinocerebellar tracts, cardiomyopathy, and increased incidence in diabetes. The underlying pathophysiological mechanism of FRDA, driven by a significantly decreased expression of frataxin (FXN), involves increased oxidative stress, reduced activity of enzymes containing iron‑sulfur clusters (ISC), defective energy production, calcium dyshomeostasis, and impaired mitochondrial biogenesis, leading to mitochondrial dysfunction. The peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma (PPARγ) is a ligand-activated transcriptional factor playing a key role in mitochondrial function and biogenesis, fatty acid storage, energy metabolism, and antioxidant defence. It has been previously shown that the PPARγ/PPARγ coactivator 1 alpha (PGC-1α) pathway is dysregulated when there is frataxin deficiency, thus contributing to FRDA pathogenesis and supporting the PPARγ pathway as a potential therapeutic target. Here we assess whether MIN-102 (INN: leriglitazone), a novel brain penetrant and orally bioavailable PPARγ agonist with an improved profile for central nervous system (CNS) diseases, rescues phenotypic features in cellular and animal models of FRDA. In frataxin-deficient dorsal root ganglia (DRG) neurons, leriglitazone increased frataxin protein levels, reduced neurite degeneration and α-fodrin cleavage mediated by calpain and caspase 3, and increased survival. Leriglitazone also restored mitochondrial membrane potential and partially reversed decreased levels of mitochondrial Na+/Ca2+ exchanger (NCLX), resulting in an improvement of mitochondrial functions and calcium homeostasis. In frataxin-deficient primary neonatal cardiomyocytes, leriglitazone prevented lipid droplet accumulation without increases in frataxin levels. Furthermore, leriglitazone improved motor function deficit in YG8sR mice, a FRDA mouse model. In agreement with the role of PPARγ in mitochondrial biogenesis, leriglitazone significantly increased markers of mitochondrial biogenesis in FRDA patient cells. Overall, these results suggest that targeting the PPARγ pathway by leriglitazone may provide an efficacious therapy for FRDA increasing the mitochondrial function and biogenesis that could increase frataxin levels in compromised frataxin-deficient DRG neurons. Alternately, leriglitazone improved the energy metabolism by increasing the fatty acid β-oxidation in frataxin-deficient cardiomyocytes without elevation of frataxin levels. This could be linked to a lack of significant mitochondrial biogenesis and cardiac hypertrophy. The results reinforced the different tissue requirement in FRDA and the pleiotropic effects of leriglitazone that could be a promising therapy for FRDA.

Keywords: Cardiomyocytes; Dorsal root ganglia neurons; FRDA fibroblasts; Frataxin; Friedreich Ataxia; Leriglitazone; Mitochondrial function; Neurodegeneration; PPARγ agonist; YG8sR.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Friedreich Ataxia / metabolism*
  • Friedreich Ataxia / pathology
  • Friedreich Ataxia / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Iron-Binding Proteins / drug effects*
  • Iron-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Lipid Droplets / drug effects*
  • Membrane Potential, Mitochondrial / drug effects
  • Mice
  • Mitochondria / drug effects*
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Myocytes, Cardiac / drug effects*
  • Myocytes, Cardiac / metabolism
  • Myocytes, Cardiac / pathology
  • Neurites / drug effects
  • Neurites / pathology
  • Neurons / drug effects*
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurons / pathology
  • PPAR gamma / agonists*
  • Rats
  • Thiazolidinediones / pharmacology*


  • Iron-Binding Proteins
  • PPAR gamma
  • Thiazolidinediones
  • frataxin
  • leriglitazone