Dissecting the dynamic turnover of GFP-LC3 in the autolysosome

Hong Min Ni, Abigail Bockus, Ann L. Wozniak, Kellyann Jones, Steven Weinman, Xiao Ming Yin, Wen Xing Ding

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224 Scopus citations


Determination of autophagic flux is essential to assess and differentiate between the induction or suppression of autophagy. Western blot analysis for free GFP fragments resulting from the degradation of GFP-LC3 within the autolysosome has been proposed as one of the autophagic flux assays. However, the exact dynamics of GFP-LC3 during the autophagy process are not clear. Moreover, the characterization of this assay in mammalian cells is limited. Here we found that lysosomal acidity is an important regulating factor for the step-wise degradation of GFP-LC3, in which the free GFP fragments are first generated but accumulate only when the lysosomal acidity is moderate, such as during rapamycin treatment. When the lysosomal acidity is high, such as during starvation in Earle's balanced salt solution (EBSS ), the GFP fragments are further degraded and thus do not accumulate. Much to our surprise, we found that the level of free GFP fragments increased in the presence of several late stage autophagy inhibitors, such as chloroquine or E64D plus pepstatin A. Furthermore, the amount of free GFP fragments depends on the concentrations of these inhibitors. Unsaturating concentrations of chloroquine or bafilomycin A1 increased the level of free GFP fragments while saturating concentrations did not. Data from the present study demonstrate that GFP-LC3 is degraded in a step-wise fashion in the autolysosome, in which the LC3 portion of the fusion protein appears to be more rapidly degraded than GFP. However, the amount of free GFP fragments does not necessarily correlate with autophagic flux if the lysosomal enzyme activity and pH are changed. Therefore, caution must be used when conducting the GFP-LC3 cleavage assay as a determinant of autophagic flux. In order to accurately assess autophagy, it is more appropriate to assess GFP-LC3 cleavage in the presence or absence of saturating or unsaturating concentrations of chloroquine or bafilomycin A1 together with other autophagy markers, such as levels of p62 and endogenous LC3-II .

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)188-204
Number of pages17
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2011


  • Autophagic flux
  • Autophagy
  • Chloroquine
  • GFP-LC3
  • Lysosome

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology
  • Molecular Biology

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    Ni, H. M., Bockus, A., Wozniak, A. L., Jones, K., Weinman, S., Yin, X. M., & Ding, W. X. (2011). Dissecting the dynamic turnover of GFP-LC3 in the autolysosome. Autophagy, 7(2), 188-204. https://doi.org/10.4161/auto.7.2.14181