Prog Neurobiol 2012 May 10;97(2):67-82. Epub 2011 Sep 10.
Department of Medical Genetics, Cambridge Institute for Medical Research, Addenbrooke's Hospital, University of Cambridge, Hills Road, Cambridge CB2 0XY, UK.
In polyglutamine diseases, an abnormally elongated polyglutamine tract results in protein misfolding and accumulation of intracellular aggregates. The length of the polyglutamine expansion correlates with the tendency of the mutant protein to aggregate, as well as with neuronal toxicity and earlier disease onset. Although currently there is no effective cure to prevent or slow down the progression of these neurodegenerative disorders, increasing the clearance of mutant proteins has been proposed as a potential therapeutic approach. The ubiquitin-proteasome system and autophagy are the two main degradative pathways responsible for eliminating misfolded and unnecessary proteins in the cell. We will review some of the studies that have proposed autophagy as a strategy to reduce the accumulation of polyglutamine-expanded protein aggregates and protect against mutant protein neurotoxicity. We will also discuss some of the currently known mechanisms that induce autophagy, which may be beneficial for the treatment of these and other neurodegenerative disorders.