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Cell Death Dis. 2017 Oct 5;8(10):e3091. doi: 10.1038/cddis.2017.501.

Is trehalose an autophagic inducer? Unraveling the roles of non-reducing disaccharides on autophagic flux and alpha-synuclein aggregation.

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Department of Anatomy, School of Medicine, Konkuk University, Seoul 05029, South Korea.
IBST, Konkuk University, Seoul 05029, Korea.
Department of Medicine, Seoul National University College of Medicine, Seoul, South Korea.
Research Institute of Medical Science, Konkuk University, Seoul 05029, South Korea.


Autophagy is a pivotal intracellular process by which cellular macromolecules are degraded upon various stimuli. A failure in the degradation of autophagic substrates such as impaired organelles and protein aggregates leads to their accumulations, which are characteristics of many neurodegenerative diseases. Pharmacological activation of autophagy has thus been considered a prospective therapeutic approach for treating neurodegenerative diseases. Among a number of autophagy-inducing agents, trehalose has received attention for its beneficial effects in different disease models of neurodegeneration. However, how trehalose promotes autophagy has not been fully revealed. We investigated the influence of trehalose and other disaccharides upon autophagic flux and aggregation of α-synuclein, a protein linked to Parkinson's disease. In differentiated human neuroblastoma and primary rat cortical neuron culture models, treatment with trehalose and other disaccharides resulted in accumulation of lipidated LC3 (LC3-II), p62, and autophagosomes, whereas it decreased autolysosomes. On the other hand, addition of Bafilomycin A1 to trehalose treatments had relatively marginal effect, an indicative of autophagic flux blockage. In concordance with these results, the cells treated with trehalose exhibited an incremental tendency in α-synuclein aggregation. Secretion of α-synuclein was also elevated in the culture medium upon trehalose treatment, thereby significantly increasing intercellular transmission of this protein. Despite the substantial increase in α-synuclein aggregation, which normally leads to cell death, cell viability was not affected upon treatment with trehalose, suggesting an autophagy-independent protective function of trehalose against protein aggregates. This study demonstrates that, although trehalose has been widely considered an autophagic inducer, it may be actually a potent blocker of the autophagic flux.

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