Autophagy and its normal and pathogenic states in the brain

Annu Rev Neurosci. 2014;37:55-78. doi: 10.1146/annurev-neuro-071013-014149. Epub 2014 Apr 21.


Autophagy is a conserved catabolic process that delivers the cytosol and cytosolic constituents to the lysosome. Its fundamental role is to maintain cellular homeostasis and to protect cells from varying insults, including misfolded proteins and damaged organelles. Beyond these roles, the highly specialized cells of the brain have further adapted autophagic pathways to suit their distinct needs. In this review, we briefly summarize our current understanding of the different forms of autophagy and then offer a closer look at how these pathways impact neuronal and glial functions. The emerging evidence indicates that not only are autophagy pathways essential for neural health, but they have a direct impact on developmental and neurodegenerative processes. Taken together, as we unravel the complex roles autophagy pathways play, we will gain the necessary insight to modify these pathways to protect the human brain and treat neurodegenerative diseases.

Keywords: glia; macroautophagy; neurodegeneration; neurodevelopment; neurons.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology
  • Animals
  • Autophagy / physiology*
  • Brain / growth & development
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Nerve Degeneration / pathology
  • Nerve Degeneration / physiopathology*
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / pathology
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Neuroglia / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Signal Transduction / physiology