The autophagy-lysosome system is an important cellular degradation pathway that recycles dysfunctional organelles and cytotoxic protein aggregates. A decline in this system is pathogenic in many human diseases including neurodegenerative disorders, fatty liver disease, and atherosclerosis. Thus there is intense interest in discovering therapeutics aimed at stimulating the autophagy-lysosome system. Trehalose is a natural disaccharide composed of two glucose molecules linked by a ɑ-1,1-glycosidic bond with the unique ability to induce cellular macroautophagy/autophagy and with reported efficacy on mitigating several diseases where autophagy is dysfunctional. Interestingly, the mechanism by which trehalose induces autophagy is unknown. One suggested mechanism is its ability to activate TFEB (transcription factor EB), the master transcriptional regulator of autophagy-lysosomal biogenesis. Here we describe a potential mechanism involving direct trehalose action on the lysosome. We find trehalose is endocytically taken up by cells and accumulates within the endolysosomal system. This leads to a low-grade lysosomal stress with mild elevation of lysosomal pH, which acts as a potent stimulus for TFEB activation and nuclear translocation. This process appears to involve inactivation of MTORC1, a known negative regulator of TFEB which is sensitive to perturbations in lysosomal pH. Taken together, our data show the trehalose can act as a weak inhibitor of the lysosome which serves as a trigger for TFEB activation. Our work not only sheds light on trehalose action but suggests that mild alternation of lysosomal pH can be a novel method of inducing the autophagy-lysosome system. Abbreviations: ASO: antisense oligonucleotide; AU: arbitrary units; BMDM: bone marrow-derived macrophages; CLFs: crude lysosomal fractions; CTSD: cathepsin D; LAMP: lysosomal associated membrane protein; LIPA/LAL: lipase A, lysosomal acid type; MAP1LC3: microtubule-associated protein 1 light chain 3; MFI: mean fluorescence intensity; MTORC1: mechanistic target of rapamycin kinase complex 1; pMAC: peritoneal macrophages; SLC2A8/GLUT8: solute carrier family 2, (facilitated glucose transporter), member 8; TFEB: transcription factor EB; TMR: tetramethylrhodamine; TREH: trehalase.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3740-3752
Number of pages13
Issue number11
StatePublished - 2021


  • Endocytosis
  • MTORC1
  • TFEB
  • lysosome
  • trehalose


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