Erythropoietin and small molecule agonists of the tissue-protective erythropoietin receptor increase FXN expression in neuronal cellsin vitroand in Fxn-deficient KIKO micein vivo

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Friedreich's ataxia (FA) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease caused by reduced levels of the mitochondrial protein frataxin (FXN). Recombinant human erythropoietin (rhEPO) increased FXN protein in vitro and in early clinical studies, while no published reports evaluate rhEPO in animal models of FA. STS-E412 and STS-E424 are novel small molecule agonists of the tissue-protective, but not the erythropoietic EPO receptor. We find that rhEPO, STS-E412 and STS-E424 increase FXN expression in vitro and in vivo. RhEPO, STS-E412 and STS-E424 increase FXN by up to 2-fold in primary human cortical cells and in retinoic-acid differentiated murine P19 cells. In primary human cortical cells, the increase in FXN protein was accompanied by an increase in FXN mRNA, detectable within 4 h. RhEPO and low nanomolar concentrations of STS-E412 and STS-E424 also increase FXN in normal and FA patient-derived PBMC by 20%–40% within 24 h, an effect that was comparable to that by HDAC inhibitor 4b. In vivo, STS-E412 increased Fxn mRNA and protein in wild-type C57BL6/j mice. RhEPO, STS-E412, and STS-E424 increase FXN expression in the heart of FXN-deficient KIKO mice. In contrast, FXN expression in the brains of KIKO mice increased following treatment with STS-E412 and STS-E424, but not following treatment with rhEPO. Unexpectedly, rhEPO-treated KIKO mice developed severe splenomegaly, while no splenomegaly was observed in STS-E412- or STS-E424-treated mice. RhEPO, STS-E412 and STS-E424 upregulate FXN expression in vitro at equal efficacy, however, the effects of the small molecules on FXN expression in the CNS are superior to rhEPO in vivo.

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