Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Children's Hospital Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (M.G.C., S.X., D.L., T.L., R.B.W.); The Penn Medicine/CHOP Center of Excellence for Friedreich's Ataxia Research, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (M.G.C., S.X., D.L., T.L., R.B.W.); Department of Chemistry, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (L.T., P.W.); Department of Chemistry (D.M.H.), and Perelman School of Medicine (R.B.W.), University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania [Email]
Friedreich ataxia (FRDA) is a progressive neuro- and cardio-degenerative disorder characterized by ataxia, sensory loss, and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. In most cases, the disorder is caused by GAA repeat expansions in the first introns of both alleles of the FXN gene, resulting in decreased expression of the encoded protein, frataxin. Frataxin localizes to the mitochondrial matrix and is required for iron-sulfur-cluster biosynthesis. Decreased expression of frataxin is associated with mitochondrial dysfunction, mitochondrial iron accumulation, and increased oxidative stress. Ferropotosis is a recently identified pathway of regulated, iron-dependent cell death, which is biochemically distinct from apoptosis. We evaluated whether there is evidence for ferroptotic pathway activation in cellular models of FRDA. We found that primary patient-derived fibroblasts, murine fibroblasts with FRDA-associated mutations, and murine fibroblasts in which a repeat expansion had been introduced (knockin/knockout) were more sensitive than normal control cells to erastin, a known ferroptosis inducer. We also found that the ferroptosis inhibitors ethyl 3-(benzylamino)-4-(cyclohexylamino)benzoate (SRS11-92) and ethyl 3-amino-4-(cyclohexylamino)benzoate, used at 500 nM, were efficacious in protecting human and mouse cellular models of FRDA treated with ferric ammonium citrate (FAC) and an inhibitor of glutathione synthesis [L-buthionine (S,R)-sulfoximine (BSO)], whereas caspase-3 inhibitors failed to show significant biologic activity. Cells treated with FAC and BSO consistently showed decreased glutathione-dependent peroxidase activity and increased lipid peroxidation, both hallmarks of ferroptosis. Finally, the ferroptosis inhibitor SRS11-92 decreased the cell death associated with frataxin knockdown in healthy human fibroblasts. Taken together, these data suggest that ferroptosis inhibitors may have therapeutic potential in FRDA.