Age-Related Autophagy Impairment in Cervical and Lumbar Motor Neurons

Emily C. Ducaji, Julie Sang, Miguel Pareja-Cajiao, Heather M. Gransee, Gary C. Sieck, Carlos B. Mantilla

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Neuromuscular dysfunction increases with age and mobility restrictions decrease quality of life for the elderly. A hallmark of aging is the aggregation of proteins and damaged components within a cell, which is especially detrimental to post-mitotic cells such as motor neurons. Autophagy, a multistep catabolic process, is responsible for the disposal of damaged cellular components. Accumulation of autophagy markers may differ across motor neuron pools consistent with differences in aging effects across muscles. Autophagy is characterized by the elongation of a double-membrane vacuole around the tagged cargo which fuses with a lysosome and is subsequently degraded. In the present study, expression levels of factors for autophagy initiation (Beclin1), elongation (LC3I, LC3II, the LC3II/I ratio, ATG7, and the ATG5/12 complex), and degradation (p62 clearance) were determined in the cervical (CSC) and lumbar spinal cord (LSC) of male and female C57BL/6 mice at 6, 18, and 24 months of age (n=8/age) using Western blot, spanning a period where aging differences manifest in forelimb vs. hindlimb muscles. A mixed linear model with animal as a random effect was used to compare the effect of age, tissue, sex, and their interaction on the relative expression of each autophagy factor. There was an age*tissue interaction for Beclin1 at 24 mo, with greater Beclin1 expression in LSC than CSC. There was an overall effect of age on LC3I expression, with 24 mo greater than 6 mo, and no changes in LC3II expression. The LC3II/I ratio was significantly different by tissue, whereby CSC had a greater LC3II/I ratio than that of LSC. Expression of ATG7 had a tissue*sex interaction, with ATG7 in females greater in LSC than CSC. There were no changes in ATG5/12 complex. Finally, there was an age and age*tissue interaction in p62 expression. p62 was significantly greater at 24 mo than at 18 mo, and at 18mo the LSC had greater p62 expression than CSC. These results suggest greater impairment of autophagy flux in LSC compared to CSC at comparable ages, consistent with greater susceptibility to aging effects in hindlimb muscles. Future studies will evaluate motor neuron-specific changes in markers of autophagy elongation (i.e., LC3) and p62 clearance.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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