Thioridazine reverts the phenotype in cellular and Drosophila models of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis by enhancing TDP-43 aggregate clearance

Neurobiol Dis. 2021 Dec:160:105515. doi: 10.1016/j.nbd.2021.105515. Epub 2021 Sep 24.


Brain inclusions mainly composed of misfolded and aggregated TAR DNA binding protein 43 (TDP-43), are characteristic hallmarks of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Irrespective of the role played by the inclusions, their reduction represents an important therapeutic pathway that is worth exploring. Their removal can either lead to the recovery of TDP-43 function by removing the self-templating conformers that sequester the protein in the inclusions, and/or eliminate any potential intrinsic toxicity of the aggregates. The search for curative therapies has been hampered by the lack of ALS models for use in high-throughput screening. We adapted, optimised, and extensively characterised our previous ALS cellular model for such use. The model demonstrated efficient aggregation of endogenous TDP-43, and concomitant loss of its splicing regulation function. We provided a proof-of-principle for its eventual use in high-throughput screening using compounds of the tricyclic family and showed that recovery of TDP-43 function can be achieved by the enhanced removal of TDP-43 aggregates by these compounds. We observed that the degradation of the aggregates occurs independent of the autophagy pathway beyond autophagosome-lysosome fusion, but requires a functional proteasome pathway. The in vivo translational effect of the cellular model was tested with two of these compounds in a Drosophila model expressing a construct analogous to the cellular model, where thioridazine significantly improved the locomotive defect. Our findings have important implications as thioridazine cleared TDP-43 aggregates and recovered TDP-43 functionality. This study also highlights the importance of a two-stage, in vitro and in vivo model system to cross-check the search for small molecules that can clear TDP-43 aggregates in TDP-43 proteinopathies.

Keywords: ALS; Aggregation; Autophagy; Drosophila; Phenotypic screen; TBPH; TDP-43; Thioridazine; Ubiquitin–proteasome.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / drug therapy*
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / metabolism
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / pathology
  • Animals
  • Autophagy / drug effects
  • Cell Line
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Dopamine Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Dopamine Antagonists / therapeutic use*
  • Drosophila
  • Drosophila Proteins / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Protein Aggregation, Pathological / drug therapy*
  • Protein Aggregation, Pathological / metabolism
  • Protein Aggregation, Pathological / pathology
  • Thioridazine / pharmacology
  • Thioridazine / therapeutic use*


  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Dopamine Antagonists
  • Drosophila Proteins
  • TBPH protein, Drosophila
  • Thioridazine