We studied free plasma catecholamines in 23 patients with Friedreich’s ataxia, having a mean age of 22 ± 9.6 (SD) years. Conjugated catecholamines were also studied in 10 patients. Mean plasma norepinephrine and epinephrine were significantly higher than controls both in the supine and standing positions. In total 15 out of 23 patients (65%) had increased free and/or conjugated plasma catecholamines. The increase in plasma catecholamines was more marked in patients with severe neuromotor impairment. Among the patients with left ventricular concentric hypertrophy (wall thickness >12 mm), only 3 had no demonstrable sympathetic hyperfunction.
Since the high local concentrations of norepinephrine at the site of release from sympathetic nerve terminals may serve as a trigger for the hypertrophic response of the myocardial cell, it is suggested that early pharmacological intervention could prevent or limit the cardiomyopathic process or its clinical consequences.