Friedreich's ataxia (FA) is an autosomal recessive disease that has been attributed to a GAA triplet repeat expansion in the first intron of the X25/frataxin gene. Impaired glucose tolerance is present in up to 39% of FA patients, and clinically apparent diabetes is seen in approximately 18% of the affected individuals. Subjects carrying the X25/frataxin GAA repeat in a heterozygous state do not develop FA and, therefore, represent an ideal model to study the underlying metabolic defects that contribute to the diabetes associated with this disorder. In the present study, we have compared 11 first-degree relatives of FA patients (i.e., parents or heterozygous siblings of FA patients) with matched normal control subjects to study the parameters of glucose metabolism. An oral glucose tolerance test revealed diabetes in one of the heterozygous subjects who was excluded from further analyses. Using an octreotide-based quantification of insulin sensitivity, 8 of the remaining 10 study subjects showed pronounced insulin resistance, reflecting a significant difference from the control group (P = 0.001). In conclusion, a heterozygous expansion of the X25/frataxin GAA repeat in healthy individuals is associated with insulin resistance and might be considered a genetic co-factor in the pathogenesis of mitochondrial subtypes of diabetes.

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