Mechanisms and therapeutic significance of autophagy modulation by antipsychotic drugs

Cell Stress. 2018 Oct 25;2(11):282-291. doi: 10.15698/cst2018.11.161.


In this review we analyze the ability of antipsychotic medications to modulate macroautophagy, a process of controlled lysosomal digestion of cellular macromolecules and organelles. We focus on its molecular mechanisms, consequences for the function/survival of neuronal and other cells, and the contribution to the beneficial and side-effects of antipsychotics in the treatment of schizophrenia, neurodegeneration, and cancer. A wide range of antipsychotics was able to induce neuronal autophagy as a part of the adaptive stress response apparently independent of mammalian target of rapamycin and dopamine receptor blockade. Autophagy induction by antipsychotics could contribute to reducing neuronal dysfunction in schizophrenia, but also to the adverse effects associated with their long-term use, such as brain volume loss and weight gain. In neurodegenerative diseases, antipsychotic-stimulated autophagy might help to increase the clearance and reduce neurotoxicity of aggregated proteotoxins. However, the possibility that some antipsychotics might block autophagic flux and potentially contribute to proteotoxin-mediated neurodegeneration must be considered. Finally, the anticancer effects of autophagy induction by antipsychotics make plausible their repurposing as adjuncts to standard cancer therapy.

Publication types

  • Review