, Volume 256, Issue 1 Supplement, pp 3-8

Friedreich ataxia: The clinical picture

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Abstract

Friedreich ataxia (FRDA) is a rare autosomal recessive hereditary disorder that affects approximately 1 in 50,000 Caucasians. It is caused by hyperexpansion of GAA repeats in the first intron of the frataxin gene. Initial symptoms of FRDA usually appear around the beginning of the second decade of life. In addition to neuropathological disabilities such as ataxia, sensory loss, and muscle weakness, common signs are scoliosis, foot deformity, and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Approximately 10 % of patients with FRDA develop diabetes. The neuronopathy in the dorsal root ganglia, accompanied by the loss of peripheral sensory nerve fibres and the degeneration of posterior columns of the spinal cord, is a hallmark of the disease and is responsible for the typical combination of signs and symptoms specific to FRDA. Variation in neurophysiological abnormalities is correlated with the size of the GAA repeat expansion and likely accounts for individual variation in the progression of FRDA. Despite a range of disease severity, most patients will lose their ability to walk, stand, or sit without support within 10 to 15 years of disease onset. In addition to a review of the clinicopathological features of FRDA, a discussion of recent advances in our understanding of the underlying molecular mechanisms is provided.