Autophagy is a highly conserved intracellular pathway involved in the elimination of proteins and organelles by lysosomes. Known originally as an adaptive response to nutrient deprivation in mitotic cells, autophagy is now recognized as an arbiter of neuronal survival and death decisions in neurodegenerative diseases. Studies using postmortem human tissue, genetic and toxin-induced animal and cellular models indicate that many of the etiological factors associated with neurodegenerative disorders can perturb the autophagy process. Emerging data support the view that dysregulation of autophagy might play a critical role in the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative disorders. In this review, we highlight the pathophysiological roles of autophagy and its potential therapeutic implications in debilitating neurodegenerative disorders, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Huntington's diseases.
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