Autophagy –Keeping neurons immortal and calibrated



I cannot begin without congratulating the renowned scientist Dr.Yoshinori Ohsumi for his beautiful experiments that explained Autophagy, for which he was awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Bearing the meaning ‘self eating’, the process of autophagy involves cellular removal of exhausted biomolecules and organelles. In brief, the cells generate large vesicle known as autophagosome that engulf or contain the cargoes to degrade. The autophagosome then fuses with lysosome- an organelle equipped with enough enzymes to digest the arriving cargoes- and present the cargoes to the lysosome for safe disposal or recycle. This minimizes accumulation of toxic materials within cells keeping them healthy. Not surprisingly, defects in cellular autophagy are associated with development of chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and neurodegenerative diseases.

Since neurons are mitotically incompetent and generally non-self renewing, the overall integrity of nervous system heavily relies on how well the mature neurons are maintained throughout life. Therefore the process of autophagy, because of its detoxifying nature, is highly crucial to the nervous system. Animal disease models showed that defects in autophagy may accentuate development of Alzheimer’s diseases, Parkinson’s disease or Huntington’s disease. However, more studies are underway to understand a strong connection between a defective autophagy and neurodegenerative diseases.

Ongoing research work on the roles of autophagy on neuronal function was presented in today’s Nanosymposium on ‘Autophagy and Degradation’. Regulatory roles for autophagy on neuronal response to therapeutic candidates -possibly by altering the abundance of target molecules, synaptic pruning- implicated in altered neuronal excitability associated with Autism Spectrum Disorders, and ion trafficking- implicated in neuronal hyper excitability, were the major topics discussed (summarized in the figure below). Neuronal subcompartment-specific differential mechanisms for autophagy were also discussed. Overall, the autophagy research is strikingly merging in the neuroscience field and is currently a promising research area for new researchers to look for.

Do you want to explore more on autophagy research; well overwhelming number of posters are coming up that studied autophagy in different disease models spanning from Huntington’s disease to diabetic neuropathy. Watch out for the poster sessions, mainly on 13th, 14th and 15th .