The deubiquitinase function of ataxin-3 and its role in the pathogenesis of Machado-Joseph disease and other diseases

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Machado-Joseph disease (MJD) is a devastating and incurable neurodegenerative disease characterised by progressive ataxia, difficulty speaking and swallowing. Consequently, affected individuals ultimately become wheelchair dependent, require constant care, and face a shortened life expectancy. The monogenic cause of MJD is expansion of a trinucleotide (CAG) repeat region within the ATXN3 gene, which results in polyglutamine (polyQ) expansion within the resultant ataxin-3 protein. While it is well established that the ataxin-3 protein functions as a deubiquitinating (DUB) enzyme and is therefore critically involved in proteostasis, several unanswered questions remain regarding the impact of polyQ expansion in ataxin-3 on its DUB function. Here we review the current literature surrounding ataxin-3's DUB function, its DUB targets, and what is known regarding the impact of polyQ expansion on ataxin-3's DUB function. We also consider the potential neuroprotective effects of ataxin-3's DUB function, and the intersection of ataxin-3's role as a DUB enzyme and regulator of gene transcription. Ataxin-3 is the principal pathogenic protein in MJD and also appears to be involved in cancer. As aberrant deubiquitination has been linked to both neurodegeneration and cancer, a comprehensive understanding of ataxin-3's DUB function is important for elucidating potential therapeutic targets in these complex conditions. In this review, we aim to consolidate knowledge of ataxin-3 as a DUB and unveil areas for future research to aid therapeutic targeting of ataxin-3's DUB function for the treatment of MJD and other diseases.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)461-480
Number of pages20
JournalBiochemical Journal
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 18 Mar 2024

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2024. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • deubiquitinase
  • neurodegeneration
  • polyglutamine repeat
  • spinocerebellar ataxia type-3
  • ubiquitin proteasome system


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