Friedreich's ataxia is a neurological disease for which there is currently no cure. It results from modifications to DNA sequences that prevent cells from producing enough of a needed protein called frataxin. The lack of frataxin can result in a variety of problems that include loss of muscle control, fatigue, vision or hearing impairment, slurred speech, and serious heart conditions.
Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have identified synthetic RNA and DNA that reverses the protein deficiency causing Friedreich's ataxia. Using synthetic RNA or DNA, researchers have identified a way to allow normal frataxin production to resume.
Dr. David Corey, Professor of Pharmacology and Biochemistry, said, "The synthetic DNA or RNA prevents the mutant sequence from bending back and blocking the frataxin gene. This action activates the frataxin gene, which then makes frataxin RNA and protein at normal levels. In addition, our approach is selective for targeting the frataxin gene FXN and does not affect other genes."
"For use in Friedreich's ataxia, the remaining challenge will be to adequately deliver the synthetic molecules to tissues that are affected by the disease, but those challenges are being addressed by existing clinical programs targeting Huntington's disease and spinal muscular atrophy," Dr. Corey said.
About one in 50,000 people have Friedreich's ataxia, and typical onset is between 5 and 18 years of age, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The disease is caused by cells making too little of the protein frataxin, although the proteins that are made are considered normal.
"The problem arises because of a mutation within the frataxin gene FXN that does not code for protein. In this case, the mutation causes the synthesis of a longer piece of RNA. This longer sequence binds the DNA and gums up the works, blocking RNA production needed to produce the frataxin protein," Dr. Corey said.
The findings appear in Nature Communications.