Objective

To provide a systematic evaluation of the broad clinical variability in Friedreich ataxia (FRDA), a multisystem disorder presenting mainly with afferent ataxia but also a complex phenotype of nonataxia symptoms.

Methods

From the large database of the European Friedreich’s Ataxia Consortium for Translational Studies, 650 patients with genetically confirmed FRDA were included. Detailed data of medical history documentation, questionnaires, and reports on clinical features were analyzed to provide in-depth description of the clinical profile and frequency rates of phenotypical features with a focus on differences between typical-onset and late-onset FRDA. Logistic regression modeling was used to identify predictors for the presence of the most common clinical features.

Results

The most frequent clinical features beyond afferent ataxia were abnormal eye movements (90.5%), scoliosis (73.5%), deformities of the feet (58.8%), urinary dysfunction (42.8%), cardiomyopathy and cardiac hypertrophy (40.3%), followed by decreased visual acuity (36.8%); less frequent features were, among others, depression (14.1%) and diabetes (7.1%). Most of these features were more common in the typical-onset group compared to the late-onset group. Logistic regression models for the presence of these symptoms demonstrated the predictive value of GAA repeat length on the shorter allele and age at onset, but also severity of ataxia signs, sex, and presence of neonatal problems.

Conclusions

This joint European effort demonstrates the multisystem nature of this neurodegenerative disease encompassing most the central nervous, neuromuscular, cardiologic, and sensory systems. A distinct and deeper knowledge of this rare and chronic disease is highly relevant for clinical practice and designs of clinical trials.

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