Translational Neurogenetics

The goal of our research is to understand the genetic basis of human neurological diseases, using molecular genetics, genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics, cell biology, electrophysiology and behavioral analysis, and to apply this knowledge to the clinical context. We study neurodegenerative and neurodevelopmental disorders, from gene identification in human patient cohorts to mechanistic studies and preclinical drug testing. For this we develop disease models using cultured cells, C. elegans and mice, which, once validated, can be used to search for therapeutic targets and test the efficacy of therapeutic strategies – based on novel synthetic molecules, natural products and repurposed drugs.

Within our studies of disease mechanisms, a topic of particular relevance is the regulation of protein homeostasis within neurons, through the action of a network of protein folding and protein degradation promoting molecules. The function of these molecules in neuronal cells is of interest to us from a fundamental science perspective but also as potential drug targets. We have acquired expertise and developed relevant tools for the study of these pathways, from chaperones to the ubiquitin-proteasome system, and autophagy, as well as to address degradation-unrelated ubiquitin signalling in the nervous system. We are also working on new small-molecule based therapeutic modalities for neurodegenerative diseases that harness these endogenous targeted protein degradation mechanisms or target selected protein-protein interactions.

Team Members

Patricia Maciel

Principal Investigator
Team Coordinator

Andreia Teixeira-Castro

Assistant Researcher

Sara Duarte-Silva

Assistant Researcher

Cláudia Falcão-Reis


Jorge Diogo Da Silva


Maria Lopes de Almeida


Bruno Almeida

Postdoctoral Researcher

Joana Pereira-Sousa

Postdoctoral Researcher

Marta Daniela Costa

Postdoctoral Researcher

Stéphanie Oliveira

Postdoctoral Researcher

Cármen Vieira

PhD Student

Bruna Ferreira-Lomba

Research Technician

Rita Fernandes

Research Technician


Success Story

Our team has a strong and internationally recognized scientific expertise in Machado-Joseph disease – a rare neurodegenerative disease within the group of polyglutamine diseases– and in proteostasis, related to normal aging and to aging-related neurodegenerative disorders. We have developed highly relevant animal models of this disease in C. elegans and mouse, that mimick the core features of the human disease, from pathology to motor phenotype. We optimized a setup for medium-throughput drug screening based on the C. elegans model that has allowed the discovery of highly relevant therapeutic candidates and provided novel clues to disease pathogenesis mechanisms. Three of the molecules identified using this approach – citalopram/escitalopram, creatine and tauroursodeoxycholic acid (TUDCA) – are easily translatable to the clinical context, in a drug repurposing approach, given their known safety, and thus may allow closing this virtuous circle with impact on patient care.

Selected Research Outputs

Fu, J. M., F. K. Satterstrom, M. Peng, H. Brand, R. L. Collins, S. Dong, B. Wamsley, L. Klei, L. Wang, S. P. Hao, C. R. Stevens, C. Cusick, M. Babadi, E. Banks, B. Collins, S. Dodge, S. B. Gabriel, L. Gauthier, S. K. Lee, L. Liang, A. Ljungdahl, B. Mahjani, L. Sloofman, A. N. Smirnov, M. Barbosa, C. Betancur, A. Brusco, B. H. Y. Chung, E. H. Cook, M. L. Cuccaro, E. Domenici, G. B. Ferrero, J. J. Gargus, G. E. Herman, I. Hertz-Picciotto, P. Maciel, D. S. Manoach, M. R. Passos-Bueno, A. M. Persico, A. Renieri, J. S. Sutcliffe, F. Tassone, E. Trabetti, G. Campos, S. Cardaropoli, D. Carli, M. C. Y. Chan, C. Fallerini, E. Giorgio, A. C. Girardi, E. Hansen-Kiss, S. L. Lee, C. Lintas, Y. Ludena, R. Nguyen, L. Pavinato, M. Pericak-Vance, I. N. Pessah, R. J. Schmidt, M. Smith, C. I. S. Costa, S. Trajkova, J. Y. T. Wang, M. H. C. Yu, B. Aleksic, M. Artomov, E. Benetti, M. Biscaldi-Schafer, A. D. Børglum, A. Carracedo, A. G. Chiocchetti, H. Coon, R. N. Doan, M. Fernández-Prieto, C. M. Freitag, S. Gerges, S. Guter, D. M. Hougaard, C. M. Hultman, S. Jacob, M. Kaartinen, A. Kolevzon, I. Kushima, T. Lehtimäki, C. L. Rizzo, N. Maltman, M. Manara, G. Meiri, I. Menashe, J. Miller, N. Minshew, M. Mosconi, N. Ozaki, A. Palotie, M. Parellada, K. Puura, A. Reichenberg, S. Sandin, S. W. Scherer, S. Schlitt, L. Schmitt, K. Schneider-Momm, P. M. Siper, P. Suren, J. A. Sweeney, K. Teufel, M. del Pilar Trelles, L. A. Weiss, R. Yuen, D. J. Cutler, S. De Rubeis, J. D. Buxbaum, M. J. Daly, B. Devlin, K. Roeder, S. J. Sanders, M. E. Talkowski, C. The Autism Sequencing, G. Broad Institute Center for Common Disease and P.-B. C. i (2022). Rare coding variation provides insight into the genetic architecture and phenotypic context of autism. Nature Genetics, 54(9), 1320-1331.

Campos, A. B.*, Duarte-Silva, S.*, Fernandes, B., das Neves, S. P., Marques, F., Teixeira-Castro, A., Neves-Carvalho, A., Monteiro-Fernandes, D., Portugal, C. C., Socodato, R., Summavielle, T., Ambrósio, A. F., Relvas, J. B., & Maciel, P. (2022). Profiling Microglia in a Mouse Model of Machado-Joseph Disease. Biomedicines, 10(2), 237.

Jalles, A.*, Vieira, C.*, Pereira-Sousa, J., Vilasboas-Campos, D., Mota, A. F., Vasconcelos, S., Ferreira-Lomba, B., Costa, M. D., Da Silva, J. D., Maciel, P., & Teixeira-Castro, A. (2022). Aripiprazole Offsets Mutant ATXN3-Induced Motor Dysfunction by Targeting Dopamine D2 and Serotonin 1A and 2A Receptors in C. elegans. Biomedicines, 10(2), 370.

Pereira-Sousa, J., Ferreira-Lomba, B., Bellver-Sanchis, A., Vilasboas-Campos, D., Fernandes, J. H., Costa, M. D., Varney, M. A., Newman-Tancredi, A., Maciel, P., & Teixeira-Castro, A. (2021). Identification of the 5-HT1A serotonin receptor as a novel therapeutic target in a C. elegans model of Machado-Joseph disease. Neurobiology of Disease, 152, 105278.

Correia, J. S.*, Neves-Carvalho, A.*, Mendes-Pinheiro, B.*, Pires, J., Teixeira, F. G., Lima, R., Monteiro, S., Silva, N. A., Soares-Cunha, C., Serra, S. C., Duarte-Silva, S., Teixeira-Castro, A., Salgado, A. J., & Maciel, P. (2021). Preclinical Assessment of Mesenchymal-Stem-Cell-Based Therapies in Spinocerebellar Ataxia Type 3. Biomedicines, 9(12), 1754.

Satterstrom, F. K., J. A. Kosmicki, J. Wang, M. S. Breen, S. De Rubeis, J. Y. An, M. Peng, R. Collins, J. Grove, L. Klei, C. Stevens, J. Reichert, M. S. Mulhern, M. Artomov, S. Gerges, B. Sheppard, X. Xu, A. Bhaduri, U. Norman, H. Brand, G. Schwartz, R. Nguyen, E. E. Guerrero, C. Dias, C. Betancur, E. H. Cook, L. Gallagher, M. Gill, J. S. Sutcliffe, A. Thurm, M. E. Zwick, A. D. Børglum, M. W. State, A. E. Cicek, M. E. Talkowski, D. J. Cutler, B. Devlin, S. J. Sanders, K. Roeder, M. J. Daly and J. D. Buxbaum (2020). "Large-Scale Exome Sequencing Study Implicates Both Developmental and Functional Changes in the Neurobiology of Autism." Cell 180(3): 568-584.e523.

Duarte-Silva, S., Neves-Carvalho, A., Soares-Cunha, C., Silva, J. M., Teixeira-Castro, A., Vieira, R., Silva-Fernandes, A., & Maciel, P. (2018). Neuroprotective Effects of Creatine in the CMVMJD135 Mouse Model of Spinocerebellar Ataxia Type 3. Movement disorders : official journal of the Movement Disorder Society, 33(5), 815–826.

Teixeira-Castro, A.*, Jalles, A.*, Esteves, S.*, Kang, S., da Silva Santos, L., Silva-Fernandes, A., Neto, M. F., Brielmann, R. M., Bessa, C., Duarte-Silva, S., Miranda, A., Oliveira, S., Neves-Carvalho, A., Bessa, J., Summavielle, T., Silverman, R. B., Oliveira, P., Morimoto, R. I., & Maciel, P. (2015). Serotonergic signalling suppresses ataxin 3 aggregation and neurotoxicity in animal models of Machado-Joseph disease. Brain: a journal of neurology, 138(Pt 11), 3221–3237.

Lopes, F., Barbosa, M., Ameur, A., Soares, G., de Sá, J., Dias, A. I., Oliveira, G., Cabral, P., Temudo, T., Calado, E., Cruz, I. F., Vieira, J. P., Oliveira, R., Esteves, S., Sauer, S., Jonasson, I., Syvänen, A. C., Gyllensten, U., Pinto, D., & Maciel, P. (2016). Identification of novel genetic causes of Rett syndrome-like phenotypes. Journal of Medical Genetics, 53(3), 190–199.

Patent: “Citalopram or escitalopram, pharmaceutically acceptable salts thereof for use in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases” to the University of Minho - EP16715099.4 (PM and ATC- Inventors)