Impaired autophagy, a cellular digestion process that eliminates proteins and damaged organelles, has been implicated in neurodegenerative diseases, including motor neuron disorders. Motor neuron targeted upregulation of autophagy may serve as a promising therapeutic approach. Lanthionine ketenamine (LK), an amino acid metabolite found in mammalian brain tissue, activates autophagy in neuronal cell lines. We hypothesized that analogs of LK can be targeted to motor neurons using nanoparticles to improve autophagy flux. Using a mouse motor neuron-like hybrid cell line (NSC-34), we tested the effect of three different LK analogs on autophagy modulation, either alone or loaded in nanoparticles. For fluorescence visualization of autophagy flux, we used a mCherry-GFP-LC3 plasmid reporter. We also evaluated protein expression changes in LC3-II/LC3-I ratio obtained by western blot, as well as presence of autophagic vacuoles per cell obtained by electron microscopy. Delivering LK analogs with targeted nanoparticles significantly enhanced autophagy flux in differentiated motor neuron-like cells compared to LK analogs alone, suggesting the need of a delivery vehicle to enhance their efficacy. In conclusion, LK analogs loaded in nanoparticles targeting motor neurons constitute a promising treatment option to induce autophagy flux, which may serve to mitigate motor neuron degeneration/loss and preserve motor function in motor neuron disease.
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