Autophagy in neurons: a review

Histol Histopathol. 2002;17(3):897-908. doi: 10.14670/HH-17.897.


Macroautophagy is a process of regulated turnover of cellular constituents that occurs during development and under conditions of stress such as starvation. Defects in autophagy have serious consequences, as they have been linked to neurodegenerative disease, cancer, and cardiomyopathy. This process, which exists in all eukaryotic cells, is tightly controlled, but in extreme cases results in the death of the cell. While major insights into the molecular and biochemical pathways involved have come from genetic studies in yeast, little is known about autophagic pathways in mammalian cells, particularly in neurons. Recently, research in neuronal culture models has begun to identify some characteristics of neuronal macroautophagy. The results suggest that macroautophagy in neurons may provide a neuroprotective mechanism. Here, we review the defining characteristics of autophagy with special attention to its role in neurodegenerative disorders, and recent efforts to delineate the pathway of autophagic protein degradation in neurons.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Autophagy*
  • Cell Death
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Humans
  • Lysosomes / metabolism
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Models, Biological
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / metabolism
  • Neurons / cytology*
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurons / pathology*