Autophagy and ALS: mechanistic insights and therapeutic implications

Autophagy. 2022 Feb;18(2):254-282. doi: 10.1080/15548627.2021.1926656. Epub 2021 May 31.


Mechanisms of protein homeostasis are crucial for overseeing the clearance of misfolded and toxic proteins over the lifetime of an organism, thereby ensuring the health of neurons and other cells of the central nervous system. The highly conserved pathway of autophagy is particularly necessary for preventing and counteracting pathogenic insults that may lead to neurodegeneration. In line with this, mutations in genes that encode essential autophagy factors result in impaired autophagy and lead to neurodegenerative conditions such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). However, the mechanistic details underlying the neuroprotective role of autophagy, neuronal resistance to autophagy induction, and the neuron-specific effects of autophagy-impairing mutations remain incompletely defined. Further, the manner and extent to which non-cell autonomous effects of autophagy dysfunction contribute to ALS pathogenesis are not fully understood. Here, we review the current understanding of the interplay between autophagy and ALS pathogenesis by providing an overview of critical steps in the autophagy pathway, with special focus on pivotal factors impaired by ALS-causing mutations, their physiologic effects on autophagy in disease models, and the cell type-specific mechanisms regulating autophagy in non-neuronal cells which, when impaired, can contribute to neurodegeneration. This review thereby provides a framework not only to guide further investigations of neuronal autophagy but also to refine therapeutic strategies for ALS and related neurodegenerative diseases.Abbreviations: ALS: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; Atg: autophagy-related; CHMP2B: charged multivesicular body protein 2B; DPR: dipeptide repeat; FTD: frontotemporal dementia; iPSC: induced pluripotent stem cell; LIR: LC3-interacting region; MAP1LC3/LC3: microtubule associated protein 1 light chain 3; MTOR: mechanistic target of rapamycin kinase; PINK1: PTEN induced kinase 1; RNP: ribonuclear protein; sALS: sporadic ALS; SPHK1: sphingosine kinase 1; TARDBP/TDP-43: TAR DNA binding protein; TBK1: TANK-binding kinase 1; TFEB: transcription factor EB; ULK: unc-51 like autophagy activating kinase; UPR: unfolded protein response; UPS: ubiquitin-proteasome system; VCP: valosin containing protein.

Keywords: Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; C9orf72; CHMP2B; SQSTM1/p62; TBK1; macroautophagy; mitophagy; myelinophagy; neuronal autophagy; optineurin.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis* / metabolism
  • Autophagy / physiology
  • Frontotemporal Dementia* / genetics
  • Humans
  • Proteostasis
  • Unfolded Protein Response