Transcriptional profiling and biomarker identification reveal tissue specific effects of expanded ataxin-3 in a spinocerebellar ataxia type 3 mouse model

Mol Neurodegener. 2018 Jun 22;13(1):31. doi: 10.1186/s13024-018-0261-9.


Background: Spinocerebellar ataxia type 3 (SCA3) is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder caused by expansion of the polyglutamine repeat in the ataxin-3 protein. Expression of mutant ataxin-3 is known to result in transcriptional dysregulation, which can contribute to the cellular toxicity and neurodegeneration. Since the exact causative mechanisms underlying this process have not been fully elucidated, gene expression analyses in brains of transgenic SCA3 mouse models may provide useful insights.

Methods: Here we characterised the MJD84.2 SCA3 mouse model expressing the mutant human ataxin-3 gene using a multi-omics approach on brain and blood. Gene expression changes in brainstem, cerebellum, striatum and cortex were used to study pathological changes in brain, while blood gene expression and metabolites/lipids levels were examined as potential biomarkers for disease.

Results: Despite normal motor performance at 17.5 months of age, transcriptional changes in brain tissue of the SCA3 mice were observed. Most transcriptional changes occurred in brainstem and striatum, whilst cerebellum and cortex were only modestly affected. The most significantly altered genes in SCA3 mouse brain were Tmc3, Zfp488, Car2, and Chdh. Based on the transcriptional changes, α-adrenergic and CREB pathways were most consistently altered for combined analysis of the four brain regions. When examining individual brain regions, axon guidance and synaptic transmission pathways were most strongly altered in striatum, whilst brainstem presented with strongest alterations in the pi-3 k cascade and cholesterol biosynthesis pathways. Similar to other neurodegenerative diseases, reduced levels of tryptophan and increased levels of ceramides, di- and triglycerides were observed in SCA3 mouse blood.

Conclusions: The observed transcriptional changes in SCA3 mouse brain reveal parallels with previous reported neuropathology in patients, but also shows brain region specific effects as well as involvement of adrenergic signalling and CREB pathway changes in SCA3. Importantly, the transcriptional changes occur prior to onset of motor- and coordination deficits.

Keywords: Metabolomics; Mouse model; RNA sequencing; Spinocerebellar ataxia type 3.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ataxin-3 / genetics
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Humans
  • Machado-Joseph Disease / metabolism*
  • Machado-Joseph Disease / pathology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Transcriptome


  • Ataxin-3