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Macroautophagy deficiency mediates age-dependent neurodegeneration through a phospho-tau pathway

Keiichi Inoue1, Joanne Rispoli1, Hanoch Kaphzan2, Eric Klann2, Emily I Chen3, Jongpil Kim1, Masaaki Komatsu4 and Asa Abeliovich1*

Author Affiliations

1 Departments of Pathology and Neurology, Taub Institute, Columbia University Medical Center, 650 W. 168th St., New York, NY, 10032, USA

2 Center for Neural Science, New York University, 4 Washington Place, New York, NY, 10003, USA

3 Department of Pharmacological Sciences and Stony Brook University Proteomics Center, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY, 11794, USA

4 Protein Metabolism Project, Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Medical Science, Kamikitazawa 2-1-6, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo, 156-8506, Japan

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Molecular Neurodegeneration 2012, 7:48  doi:10.1186/1750-1326-7-48

Published: 21 September 2012



Macroautophagy is an evolutionarily conserved mechanism for bulk intracellular degradation of proteins and organelles. Pathological studies have implicated macroautophagy defects in human neurodegenerative disorders of aging including Alzheimer’s disease and tauopathies. Neuronal deficiency of macroautophagy throughout mouse embryonic development results in neurodevelopmental defects and early postnatal mortality. However, the role of macroautophagy in mature CNS neurons, and the relationship with human disease neuropathology, remains unclear. Here we describe mice deficient in an essential macroautophagy component, Atg7, specifically within postnatal CNS neurons.


Postnatal forebrain-specific Atg7 conditional knockout (cKO) mice displayed age-dependent neurodegeneration and ubiquitin- and p62-positive inclusions. Phosphorylated tau was significantly accumulated in Atg7 cKO brains, but neurofibrillary tangles that typify end-stage human tauopathy were not apparent. A major tau kinase, glycogen synthase kinase 3β (GSK3β), was also accumulated in Atg7 cKO brains. Chronic pharmacological inhibition of tau phosphorylation, or genetic deletion of tau, significantly rescued Atg7-deficiency-mediated neurodegeneration, but did not suppress inclusion formation.


These data elucidate a role for macroautophagy in the long-term survival and physiological function of adult CNS neurons. Neurodegeneration in the context of macroautophagy deficiency is mediated through a phospho-tau pathway.