Cellular responses to protein accumulation involve autophagy and lysosomal enzyme activation

Rejuvenation Res. 2005 Winter;8(4):227-37. doi: 10.1089/rej.2005.8.227.


Protein oligomerization and aggregation are key events in age-related neurodegenerative disorders, causing neuronal disturbances including microtubule destabilization, transport failure and loss of synaptic integrity that precede cell death. The abnormal buildup of proteins can overload digestive systems and this, in turn, activates lysosomes in different disease states and stimulates the inducible class of lysosomal protein degradation, macroautophagy. These responses were studied in a hippocampal slice model well known for amyloidogenic species, tau aggregates, and ubiquitinated proteins in response to chloroquine-mediated disruption of degradative processes. Chloroquine was found to cause a pronounced appearance of prelysosomal autophagic vacuoles in pyramidal neurons. The vacuoles and dense bodies were concentrated in the basal pole of neurons and in dystrophic neurites. In hippocampal slice cultures treated with Abeta(142), ultrastructural changes were also induced. Autophagic responses may be an attempt to compensate for protein accumulation, however, they were not sufficient to prevent axonopathy indicated by swellings, transport deficits, and reduced expression of synaptic components. Additional chloroquine effects included activation of cathepsin D and other lysosomal hydrolases. Abeta(142) produced similar lysosomal activation, and the effects of Abeta(142) and chloroquine were not additive, suggesting a common mechanism. Activated levels of cathepsin D were enhanced with the lysosomal modulator Z-Phe-Ala-diazomethylketone (PADK). PADK-mediated lysosomal enhancement corresponded with the restoration of synaptic markers, in association with stabilization of microtubules and transport capability. To show that PADK can modulate the lysosomal system in vivo, IP injections were administered over a 5-day period, resulting in a dose-dependent increase in lysosomal hydrolases. The findings indicate that degradative responses can be modulated to promote synaptic maintenance.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autophagy / physiology*
  • Cathepsin D / metabolism
  • Enzyme Activation
  • Guinea Pigs
  • Hippocampus / metabolism*
  • Hippocampus / pathology*
  • Lysosomes / enzymology*
  • Neurons / enzymology
  • Neurons / pathology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley


  • Cathepsin D