Effect and proposed mechanism of vitamin C modulating amino acid regulation of autophagic proteolysis

Biochimie. 2017 Nov:142:51-62. doi: 10.1016/j.biochi.2017.08.004. Epub 2017 Aug 10.


Autophagy is an intracellular bulk degradation process, induced under nutrient starvation. Failure of autophagy has been recognized as a contributor to aging and multiple age related neurodegenerative diseases. Improving autophagy is a beneficial anti-aging strategy, however very few physiological regulators have been identified. Here, we demonstrate that vitamin C is a nutritional stimulator of autophagy. Supplementation of fresh hepatocytes with vitamin C increased autophagic proteolysis significantly in the presence of amino acids in a dose- and time-dependent manner, although no effect was observed in the absence of amino acids. In addition, inhibitor studies with 3-methyladenine, chloroquine, leupeptin and β-lactone confirmed that vitamin C is active through the lysosomal autophagy and not the proteasome pathway. Furthermore, the autophagy marker LC3 protein was significantly increased by vitamin C, suggesting its possible site of action is at the formation step. Both the reduced (ascorbic acid, AsA) and oxidized form (dehydroascorbic acid, DHA) of vitamin C exhibited equal enhancing effect, indicating that the effect does not depend on the anti-oxidation functionality of vitamin C. To understand the mechanism, we established that the effective dose (50 μM) was 15× lower than the intracellular content suggesting these would be only a minor influx from the extracellular pool. Moreover, transporter inhibitor studies in an AsA deficient ODS model rat revealed more accurately that the enhancing effect on autophagic proteolysis still existed, even though the intracellular influx of AsA was blocked. Taken together, these results provide evidence that vitamin C can potentially act through extracellular signaling.

Keywords: Amino acids; Ascorbic acid; Autophagy; Cell signaling; Proteolysis.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Ascorbic Acid / pharmacology*
  • Autophagy / drug effects*
  • Cell Line
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Extracellular Space / drug effects
  • Extracellular Space / metabolism
  • Male
  • Proteolysis / drug effects*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Time Factors


  • Amino Acids
  • Ascorbic Acid