Toward therapeutic targets for SCA3: Insight into the role of Machado-Joseph disease protein ataxin-3 in misfolded proteins clearance

Prog Neurobiol. 2015 Sep;132:34-58. doi: 10.1016/j.pneurobio.2015.06.004. Epub 2015 Jun 27.


Machado-Joseph disease (MJD, also known as spinocerebellar ataxia type 3, SCA3), an autosomal dominant neurological disorder, is caused by an abnormal expanded polyglutamine (polyQ) repeat in the ataxin-3 protein. The length of the expanded polyQ stretch correlates positively with the severity of the disease and inversely with the age at onset. To date, we cannot fully explain the mechanism underlying neurobiological abnormalities of this disease. Yet, accumulating reports have demonstrated the functions of ataxin-3 protein in the chaperone system, ubiquitin-proteasome system, and aggregation-autophagy, all of which suggest a role of ataxin-3 in the clearance of misfolded proteins. Notably, the SCA3 pathogenic form of ataxin-3 (ataxin-3(exp)) impairs the misfolded protein clearance via mechanisms that are either dependent or independent of its deubiquitinase (DUB) activity, resulting in the accumulation of misfolded proteins and the progressive loss of neurons in SCA3. Some drugs, which have been used as activators/inducers in the chaperone system, ubiquitin-proteasome system, and aggregation-autophagy, have been demonstrated to be efficacious in the relief of neurodegeneration diseases like Huntington's disease (HD), Parkinson's (PD), Alzheimer's (AD) as well as SCA3 in animal models and clinical trials, putting misfolded protein clearance on the list of potential therapeutic targets. Here, we undertake a comprehensive review of the progress in understanding the physiological functions of ataxin-3 in misfolded protein clearance and how the polyQ expansion impairs misfolded protein clearance. We then detail the preclinical studies targeting the elimination of misfolded proteins for SCA3 treatment. We close with future considerations for translating these pre-clinical results into therapies for SCA3 patients.

Keywords: Ataxin-3; Deubiquitinase; Machado–Joseph disease; Misfolded protein clearance; Polyglutamine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ataxin-3 / genetics
  • Ataxin-3 / metabolism*
  • Autophagy / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Machado-Joseph Disease* / genetics
  • Machado-Joseph Disease* / metabolism
  • Machado-Joseph Disease* / therapy
  • Models, Biological
  • Molecular Chaperones / metabolism
  • Peptides / genetics
  • Peptides / metabolism
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex / therapeutic use*
  • Protein Folding / drug effects*
  • Ubiquitination / drug effects


  • Molecular Chaperones
  • Peptides
  • polyglutamine
  • Ataxin-3
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex