Serotonergic dysfunction in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and Parkinson's disease: Similar mechanisms, dissimilar outcomes

Yannick Vermeiren*, Jana Janssens, Debby Van Dam, Peter P. De Deyn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and Parkinson's disease (PD) share similar pathophysiological mechanisms. From a neurochemical point of view, the serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine; 5-HT) dysfunction in both movement disorders-related to probable lesioning of the raphe nuclei-is profound, and, therefore, may be partially responsible for motor as well as non-motor disturbances. More specifically, in ALS, it has been hypothesized that serotonergic denervation leads to loss of its inhibitory control on glutamate release, resulting into glutamate-induced neurotoxicity in lower and/or upper motor neurons, combined with a detrimental decrease of its facilitatory effects on glutamatergic motor neuron excitation. Both events then may eventually give rise to the well-known clinical motor phenotype. Similarly, disruption of the organized serotonergic control on complex mesencephalic dopaminergic connections between basal ganglia (BG) nuclei and across the BG-cortico-thalamic circuits, has shown to be closely involved in the onset of parkinsonian symptoms. Levodopa (L-DOPA) therapy in PD largely seems to confirm the influential role of 5-HT, since serotonergic rather than dopaminergic projections release L-DOPA-derived dopamine, particularly in extrastriatal regions, emphasizing the strongly interwoven interactions between both monoamine systems. Apart from its orchestrating function, the 5-HT system also exerts neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory effects. In line with this observation, emerging therapies have recently focused on boosting the serotonergic system in ALS and PD, which may provide novel rationale for treating these devastating conditions both on the disease-modifying, as well as symptomatic level.

Original languageEnglish
Article number185
JournalFrontiers in Neuroscience
Issue numberMAR
Publication statusPublished - 20 Mar 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • Basal ganglia
  • Dopamine
  • Glutamate
  • Parkinson's disease (PD)
  • Raphe nuclei
  • Serotonin (5-HT)

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