Serotonergic signalling suppresses ataxin 3 aggregation and neurotoxicity in animal models of Machado-Joseph disease

Andreia Teixeira-Castro, Ana Jalles, Sofia Esteves, Soosung Kang, Liliana Da Silva Santos, Anabela Silva-Fernandes, Mário F. Neto, Renée M. Brielmann, Carlos Bessa, Sara Duarte-Silva, Adriana Miranda, Stéphanie Oliveira, Andreia Neves-Carvalho, João Bessa, Teresa Summavielle, Richard B. Silverman, Pedro Oliveira, Richard I. Morimoto, Patrícia Maciel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


Polyglutamine diseases are a class of dominantly inherited neurodegenerative disorders for which there is no effective treatment. Here we provide evidence that activation of serotonergic signalling is beneficial in animal models of Machado-Joseph disease. We identified citalopram, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, in a small molecule screen of FDA-approved drugs that rescued neuronal dysfunction and reduced aggregation using a Caenorhabditis elegans model of mutant ataxin 3-induced neurotoxicity. MOD-5, the C. elegans orthologue of the serotonin transporter and cellular target of citalopram, and the serotonin receptors SER-1 and SER-4 were strong genetic modifiers of ataxin 3 neurotoxicity and necessary for therapeutic efficacy. Moreover, chronic treatment of CMVMJD135 mice with citalopram significantly reduced ataxin 3 neuronal inclusions and astrogliosis, rescued diminished body weight and strikingly ameliorated motor symptoms. These results suggest that small molecule modulation of serotonergic signalling represents a promising therapeutic target for Machado-Joseph disease.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3221-3237
Number of pages17
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2015

Bibliographical note

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© 2015 The Author (2015). Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Guarantors of Brain. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email:


  • ataxin 3 aggregation
  • selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, citalopram
  • spinocerebellar ataxia type 3
  • therapy


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