Autophagic defects in aging: looking for an "emergency exit"?
The ability of cells to renew their intracellular components and get rid of undesired or altered molecules decreases with age. Failure of autophagy is considered one of the main reasons for the build up of damaged components in the tissues of old organisms. We have recently shown that, declined activity of chaperone-mediated autophagy, a selective type of autophagy particularly impaired in aging, increases cell's vulnerability to stressors. This finding supports that, added to its role in cellular clean up, chaperone-mediated autophagy is an essential component of the cellular response to stress. Failure to perform this function with age could underlie the inability of old cells to adapt to stress conditions, and explain the accelerated course of some protein conformational disorders, such as Parkinson's disease, as affected individuals age.
Consequences of the selective blockage of chaperone-mediated autophagy
Chaperone-mediated autophagy (CMA) is a selective pathway for the degradation of cytosolic proteins in lysosomes. CMA declines with age because of a decrease in the levels of lysosome-associated membrane protein (LAMP) type 2A, a lysosomal receptor for this pathway. We have selectively blocked the expression of LAMP-2A in mouse fibroblasts in culture and analyzed the cellular consequences of reduced CMA activity. CMA-defective cells maintain normal rates of long-lived protein degradation by up-regulating macroautophagy, the major form of autophagy. Constitutive up-regulation of macroautophagy is unable, however, to compensate for all CMA functions. Thus, CMA-defective cells are more sensitive to stressors, suggesting that, although protein turnover is maintained, the selectivity of CMA is necessary as part of the cellular response to stress. Our results also denote the existence of cross-talk among different forms of autophagy.
Chaperone-mediated autophagy in aging and disease
Different mechanisms target intracellular components for their degradation into lysosomes through what is known as autophagy. In mammals, three main forms of autophagy have been described: macroautophagy, microautophagy, and chaperone-mediated autophagy (CMA). CMA is the only autophagic pathway that allows selective degradation of soluble proteins in lysosomes. In contrast to the other mammalian forms of autophagy, CMA does not require vesicle formation or major changes in the lysosomal membrane. Instead, substrate proteins directly cross the lysosomal membrane to reach the lumen, where they are rapidly degraded. The substrate proteins are targeted to the lysosomal membrane by recognition of a targeting motif (a KFERQ-like motif), by a chaperone complex, consisting of hsc70 and its cochaperones, in the cytoplasm. Once at the lysosomal membrane, the protein interacts with a lysosomal receptor for this pathway, lysosomal associated membrane protein type 2A (LAMP-2A), and it is translocated across the membrane into the lysosomal lumen assisted by a lysosome resident chaperone. These two characteristics--selectivity and direct substrate translocation--determine the particular role of CMA in different physiological and pathological conditions. In this chapter, we cover current findings on the molecular mechanisms for CMA and the possible pathophysiological relevance of this selective lysosomal degradation.