The glycosylation of nucleocytoplasmic proteins with O-linked N-acetylglucosamine residues (O-GlcNAc) is conserved among metazoans and is particularly abundant within brain. O-GlcNAc is involved in diverse cellular processes ranging from the regulation of gene expression to stress response. Moreover, O-GlcNAc is implicated in various diseases including cancers, diabetes, cardiac dysfunction, and neurodegenerative diseases. Pharmacological inhibition of O-GlcNAcase (OGA), the sole enzyme that removes O-GlcNAc, reproducibly slows neurodegeneration in various Alzheimer's disease (AD) mouse models manifesting either tau or amyloid pathology. These data have stimulated interest in the possibility of using OGA-selective inhibitors as pharmaceuticals to alter the progression of AD. The mechanisms mediating the neuroprotective effects of OGA inhibitors, however, remain poorly understood. Here we show, using a range of methods in neuroblastoma N2a cells, in primary rat neurons, and in mouse brain, that selective OGA inhibitors stimulate autophagy through an mTOR-independent pathway without obvious toxicity. Additionally, OGA inhibition significantly decreased the levels of toxic protein species associated with AD pathogenesis in the JNPL3 tauopathy mouse model as well as the 3×Tg-AD mouse model. These results strongly suggest that OGA inhibitors act within brain through a mechanism involving enhancement of autophagy, which aids the brain in combatting the accumulation of toxic protein species. Our study supports OGA inhibition being a feasible therapeutic strategy for hindering the progression of AD and other neurodegenerative diseases. Moreover, these data suggest more targeted strategies to stimulate autophagy in an mTOR-independent manner may be found within the O-GlcNAc pathway. These findings should aid the advancement of OGA inhibitors within the clinic.
Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; O-GlcNAc; Thiamet-G; autophagy; glycosylation; neurodegeneration.