Hypoxic stress activates chaperone-mediated autophagy and modulates neuronal cell survival

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Autophagy is a conserved mechanism responsible for the continuous clearance of unnecessary organelles or misfolded proteins in lysosomes. Three types of autophagy have been reported in the difference of substrate delivery to lysosome: macroautophagy, microautophagy, and chaperone-mediated autophagy (CMA). Among these types, CMA is a unique autophagy system that selectively degrades substrates detected by heat shock cognate protein 70 (HSC70). Recently, autophagic cell death has been reported to be involved in neuronal death following brain ischemia; however, the contribution of CMA to neuronal death/survival after ischemic stress has not been addressed. In the present study, we determined whether quantitative alterations in LAMP-2A, which is the key molecule in CMA, would modulate neuronal cell survival under hypoxic conditions. Incubation of Neuro2A cells in a hypoxic chamber (1% O2, 5% CO2) increased the level of LAMP-2A and induced accumulation of LAMP-2A-positive lysosomes in the perinuclear area, which is a hallmark of CMA activation. The activation of CMA in response to hypoxia was also confirmed by the GAPDH–HaloTag CMA indicator system at the single cell level. Next, we asked whether CMA was involved in cell survival during hypoxia. Blocking LAMP-2A expression with siRNA increased the level of cleaved caspase-3 and the number of propidium iodide-positive cells after hypoxic stress regardless of whether macroautophagy could occur, whereas the administration of mycophenolic acid, a potent CMA activator, rescued hypoxia-mediated cell death. Finally, we asked whether CMA was activated in the neurons after middle cerebral artery occlusion in vivo. The expression of LAMP-2A was significantly increased in the ischemic hemisphere seven days after brain ischemia. These results indicate that CMA is activated during hypoxia and contributes to the survival of cells under these conditions.

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