Oxidative stress, mitochondrial dysfunction and cellular stress response in Friedreich's ataxia

Vittorio Calabrese, Raffaele Lodi, Caterina Tonon, Velia D'Agata, Maria Sapienza, Giovanni Scapagnini, Andrea Mangiameli, Giovanni Pennisi, A. M.Giuffrida Stella, D. Allan Butterfield

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

357 Scopus citations


There is significant evidence that the pathogenesis of several neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, Friedreich's ataxia (FRDA), multiple sclerosis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, may involve the generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and/or reactive nitrogen species (RNS) associated with mitochondrial dysfunction. The mitochondrial genome may play an essential role in the pathogenesis of these diseases, and evidence for mitochondria being a site of damage in neurodegenerative disorders is based in part on observed decreases in the respiratory chain complex activities in Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and Huntington's disease. Such defects in respiratory complex activities, possibly associated with oxidant/antioxidant imbalance, are thought to underlie defects in energy metabolism and induce cellular degeneration. The precise sequence of events in FRDA pathogenesis is uncertain. The impaired intramitochondrial metabolism with increased free iron levels and a defective mitochondrial respiratory chain, associated with increased free radical generation and oxidative damage, may be considered possible mechanisms that compromise cell viability. Recent evidence suggests that frataxin might detoxify ROS via activation of glutathione peroxidase and elevation of thiols, and in addition, that decreased expression of frataxin protein is associated with FRDA. Many approaches have been undertaken to understand FRDA, but the heterogeneity of the etiologic factors makes it difficult to define the clinically most important factor determining the onset and progression of the disease. However, increasing evidence indicates that factors such as oxidative stress and disturbed protein metabolism and their interaction in a vicious cycle are central to FRDA pathogenesis. Brains of FRDA patients undergo many changes, such as disruption of protein synthesis and degradation, classically associated with the heat shock response, which is one form of stress response. Heat shock proteins are proteins serving as molecular chaperones involved in the protection of cells from various forms of stress. In the central nervous system, heat shock protein (HSP) synthesis is induced not only after hyperthermia, but also following alterations in the intracellular redox environment. The major neurodegenerative diseases, Alzheimer's disease (AD), Parkinson's disease (PD), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), multiple sclerosis (MS), Huntington's disease (HD) and FRDA are all associated with the presence of abnormal proteins. Among the various HSPs, HSP32, also known as heme oxygenase I (HO-1), has received considerable attention, as it has been recently demonstrated that HO-1 induction, by generating the vasoactive molecule carbon monoxide and the potent antioxidant bilirubin, could represent a protective system potentially active against brain oxidative injury. Given the broad cytoprotective properties of the heat shock response there is now strong interest in discovering and developing pharmacological agents capable of inducing the heat shock response. This may open up new perspectives in medicine, as molecules inducing this defense mechanism appear to be possible candidates for novel cytoprotective strategies. In particular, manipulation of endogenous cellular defense mechanisms, such as the heat shock response, through nutritional antioxidants, pharmacological compounds or gene transduction, may represent an innovative approach to therapeutic intervention in diseases causing tissue damage, such as neurodegeneration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)145-162
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of the Neurological Sciences
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Jun 15 2005

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported, in part, by a grant from the Wellcome Trust [V.C.], Cluster 04 Biomedicine and FIRB RBNE01ZK8F, and by grants from the National Institutes of Health [D.A.B.].


  • Cell stress response
  • FRDA pathogenesis
  • MR spectroscopy
  • Oxidative stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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