Chloroquine inhibits autophagic flux by decreasing autophagosome-lysosome fusion

Autophagy. 2018;14(8):1435-1455. doi: 10.1080/15548627.2018.1474314. Epub 2018 Jul 20.


Macroautophagy/autophagy is a conserved transport pathway where targeted structures are sequestered by phagophores, which mature into autophagosomes, and then delivered into lysosomes for degradation. Autophagy is involved in the pathophysiology of numerous diseases and its modulation is beneficial for the outcome of numerous specific diseases. Several lysosomal inhibitors such as bafilomycin A1 (BafA1), protease inhibitors and chloroquine (CQ), have been used interchangeably to block autophagy in in vitro experiments assuming that they all primarily block lysosomal degradation. Among them, only CQ and its derivate hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) are FDA-approved drugs and are thus currently the principal compounds used in clinical trials aimed to treat tumors through autophagy inhibition. However, the precise mechanism of how CQ blocks autophagy remains to be firmly demonstrated. In this study, we focus on how CQ inhibits autophagy and directly compare its effects to those of BafA1. We show that CQ mainly inhibits autophagy by impairing autophagosome fusion with lysosomes rather than by affecting the acidity and/or degradative activity of this organelle. Furthermore, CQ induces an autophagy-independent severe disorganization of the Golgi and endo-lysosomal systems, which might contribute to the fusion impairment. Strikingly, HCQ-treated mice also show a Golgi disorganization in kidney and intestinal tissues. Altogether, our data reveal that CQ and HCQ are not bona fide surrogates for other types of late stage lysosomal inhibitors for in vivo experiments. Moreover, the multiple cellular alterations caused by CQ and HCQ call for caution when interpreting results obtained by blocking autophagy with this drug.

Keywords: Autophagy; Golgi; bafilomycin A1; degradative compartments; fusion; lysosomal degradation; lysosomal inhibitors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autophagosomes / drug effects
  • Autophagosomes / metabolism*
  • Autophagosomes / ultrastructure
  • Autophagy / drug effects*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Chloroquine / pharmacology*
  • Endocytosis / drug effects
  • Endosomes / drug effects
  • Endosomes / metabolism
  • Endosomes / ultrastructure
  • ErbB Receptors / metabolism
  • Female
  • Golgi Apparatus / drug effects
  • Golgi Apparatus / metabolism
  • Golgi Apparatus / ultrastructure
  • Humans
  • Hydroxychloroquine / pharmacology
  • Lysosomes / drug effects
  • Lysosomes / metabolism*
  • Lysosomes / ultrastructure
  • Macrolides / pharmacology
  • Membrane Fusion / drug effects*
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Proteolysis / drug effects
  • Sequestosome-1 Protein / metabolism


  • Macrolides
  • Sequestosome-1 Protein
  • Sqstm1 protein, mouse
  • Hydroxychloroquine
  • Chloroquine
  • bafilomycin A1
  • ErbB Receptors

Grants and funding

This work was supported by the H2020 Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions [713660];KWF Kankerbestrijding [RUG2013-5792];Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek [DN82-303];Norges Forskningsråd [230686/F20];Schweizerischer Nationalfonds zur Förderung der Wissenschaftlichen Forschung [CRSII3_154421];ZonMw [016.130.606];