Heart hypertrophy and function are improved by idebenone in Friedreich's ataxia

Pierre Rustin, Agnès Rötig, Arnold Munnich, Daniel Sidi
Free Radical Research 2002, 36 (4): 467-9
Friedreich's ataxia (FRDA) is a neuro-degenerative disease causing limb and gait ataxia and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. It results from a triplet expansion in the first intron of the frataxin gene encoding a mitochondrial protein of yet unknown function. Cells with low frataxin content display generalized deficiency of mitochondrial iron-sulfur cluster-containing proteins, which presumably denotes overproduction of superoxide radicals in these organelles. Idebenone, a short-chain quinone, may act as a potent free radical scavenger protecting mitochondria against oxidative stress. We therefore carried out an open trial of idebenone (oral supplementation; 5mg/kg/day) in a large series of FRDA patients and followed their left ventricular mass and function. Consistent and definitive worsening being observed in the natural course of the disease and cardiac hypertrophy having no chance of spontaneous reversal and to be subject to a placebo effect, the patient's heart status before and after the treatment was used to unambiguously establish the effect of the drug. After six months, heart ultrasound revealed more than 20% reduction of left ventricular mass in about half of the patients (p < 0.001) and no significant change in the other half. Since any measurable reversion of this pathogenic trait is highly significant, this demonstrates the efficiency of idebenone in controlling heart hypertrophy in FRDA. Owing to the absence of side effects of the drug, idebenone (up to 15mg/kg/day) should be prescribed for FRDA patients continuously as early as possible.

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