Proteases in autophagy

Vitaliy Kaminskyy, Boris Zhivotovsky
Biochimica et Biophysica Acta 2012, 1824 (1): 44-50
Autophagy is a process involved in the proteolytic degradation of cellular macromolecules in lysosomes, which requires the activity of proteases, enzymes that hydrolyse peptide bonds and play a critical role in the initiation and execution of autophagy. Importantly, proteases also inhibit autophagy in certain cases. The initial steps of macroautophagy depend on the proteolytic processing of a particular protein, Atg8, by a cysteine protease, Atg4. This processing step is essential for conjugation of Atg8 with phosphatidylethanolamine and, subsequently, autophagosome formation. Lysosomal hydrolases, known as cathepsins, can be divided into several groups based on the catalitic residue in the active site, namely, cysteine, serine and aspartic cathepsins, which catalyse the cleavage of peptide bonds of autophagy substrates and, together with other factors, dispose of the autophagic flux. Whilst most cathepsins degrade autophagosomal content, some, such as cathepsin L, also degrade lysosomal membrane components, GABARAP-II and LC3-II. In contrast, cathepsin A, a serine protease, is involved in inhibition of chaperon-mediated autophagy through proteolytic processing of LAMP-2A. In addition, other families of calcium-dependent non-lysosomal cysteine proteases, such as calpains, and cysteine aspartate-specific proteases, such as caspases, may cleave autophagy-related proteins, negatively influencing the execution of autophagic processes. Here we discuss the current state of knowledge concerning protein degradation by autophagy and outline the role of proteases in autophagic processes. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Proteolysis 50 years after the discovery of lysosome.

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