Neurodegenerative conditions are largely characterized by the aggregation of a few altered proteins that are prone to forming solid deposits in and around neurons. Tissues, such as the brain, made up of long-lived cells, such as neurons, are particularly vulnerable to this sort of dysfunction, as they cannot dilute harmful protein aggregates by cell division, and dysfunctional cells are not readily destroyed and replaced. Cells must rely upon internal quality control mechanisms such as the presence of chaperone proteins responsible for chasing down misfolded or otherwise problematic proteins, and ensuring they are refolded correctly or recycled via autophagy.
The quality control mechanisms of chaperone mediated autophagy are known to be important in aging. Increased autophagic activity is associated with many of the means of modestly slowing aging demonstrated in laboratory animals in past decades. Autophagy declines with age, and this is thought to be important in the development of neurodegenerative conditions precisely because neurons are heavily reliant on quality control to maintain function. Researchers are interested in finding ways to build therapies for age-related conditions based on upregulation of autophagic activity, and, as noted in today’s open access paper, the class of chaperone proteins