JOURNAL ARTICLE
REVIEW

Antioxidants and other pharmacological treatments for Friedreich ataxia

Mary Kearney, Richard W Orrell, Michael Fahey, Massimo Pandolfo
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2009, (4): CD007791
19821439

BACKGROUND: Friedreich ataxia is a rare inherited, autosomal recessive, neurological disorder characterised initially by unsteadiness in standing and walking, slowly progressing to wheelchair dependency usually in the late teens or early twenties. It is associated with slurred speech, scoliosis, pes cavus and heart abnormalities which may cause premature death in 60 to 80% of people. There is no easily defined clinical or biochemical marker and no known treatment.

OBJECTIVES: To examine the efficacy of antioxidants and other pharmacological treatments for Friedreich ataxia.

SEARCH STRATEGY: We searched The Cochrane Neuromuscular Disease Group Trials Specialized Register (17 December 2008), The Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (The Cochrane Library Issue 4, 2008) MEDLINE (January 1950 to December 2008), EMBASE (January 1980 to December 2008) and other sources.

SELECTION CRITERIA: All randomised controlled trials (RCTs) or quasi-randomised trials which examined drug treatment in people with genetically confirmed Friedreich ataxia were examined. The primary outcome was change in ataxia rating scale as measured by the International Co-operative Ataxia Rating Scale (ICARS) after 12 months. Secondary outcomes included change in left ventricular heart mass as measured by magnetic resonance imaging or echocardiography.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Three authors selected the trials and two authors extracted data. We obtained missing data from the one RCT that met our inclusion criteria.

MAIN RESULTS: Over 10 studies used idebenone in the treatment of Friedreich ataxia but only one small RCT, with 29 participants using the synthetic antioxidant, idebenone 5 mg/kg, fulfilled the selection criteria for this review. Another RCT was of insufficient duration and the other studies were open clinical trials. In the included study, the primary outcome, change in ICARS scale, did not reveal any significant differences with idebenone treatment. The secondary outcome, change in left ventricular heart mass index as measured by magnetic resonance spectroscopy was not carried out. The second secondary outcome, change in left ventricular mass, as measured by echocardiography, did improve significantly (P = 0.007). There were no adverse events. A larger RCT using idebenone is in progress, of which the primary outcome is change in the ICARS scale. However, the results are not yet available.

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: No RCT using idebenone or any other pharmacological treatment has shown significant benefit on neurological symptoms associated with Friedreich ataxia. Idebenone has shown a positive effect on left ventricular heart mass but no research on clinical relevance of this change has been done.

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