Metabolomic Biomarkers Are Associated With Area of the Pons in Fragile X Premutation Carriers at Risk for Developing FXTAS

Marwa Zafarullah, Blythe Durbin-Johnson, Emily S. Fourie, David R. Hessl, Susan M. Rivera, Flora Tassone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome (FXTAS) is a late adult-onset neurodegenerative disorder that affects movement and cognition in male and female carriers of a premutation allele (55–200 CGG repeats; PM) in the fragile X mental retardation (FMR1) gene. It is currently unknown how the observed brain changes are associated with metabolic signatures in individuals who develop the disorder over time. The primary objective of this study was to investigate the correlation between longitudinal changes in the brain (area of the pons, midbrain, and MCP width) and the changes in the expression level of metabolic biomarkers of early diagnosis and progression of FXTAS in PM who, as part of an ongoing longitudinal study, emerged into two distinct categories. These included those who developed symptoms of FXTAS (converters, CON) at subsequent visits and those who did not meet the criteria of diagnosis (non-converters, NCON) and were compared to age-matched healthy controls (HC). We assessed CGG repeat allele size by Southern Blot and PCR analysis. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRIs) acquisition was obtained on a 3T Siemens Trio scanner and metabolomic profile was obtained by ultra-performance liquid chromatography, accurate mass spectrometer, and an Orbitrap mass analyzer. Our findings indicate that differential metabolite levels are linked with the area of the pons between healthy control and premutation groups. More specifically, we observed a significant association of ceramides and mannonate metabolites with a decreased area of the pons, both at visit 1 (V1) and visit 2 (V2) only in the CON as compared to the NCON group suggesting their potential role in the development of the disorder. In addition, we found a significant correlation of these metabolic signatures with the FXTAS stage at V2 indicating their contribution to the progression and pathogenesis of FXTAS. Interestingly, these metabolites, as part of lipid and sphingolipid lipids pathways, provide evidence of the role that their dysregulation plays in the development of FXTAS and inform us as potential targets for personalized therapeutic development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number691717
JournalFrontiers in Psychiatry
StatePublished - Aug 16 2021


  • area of the pons
  • brain measures
  • fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome
  • lipids
  • metabolic biomarkers
  • premutation carriers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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