Proteases are an important category of molecular machinery in the cell, one of several responsible for breaking down proteins and other molecules into component parts that can be recycled. Proteases operate as a part of the cellular maintenance processes that remove excess or damaged and potentially damaging structures and proteins. The quality of this cellular maintenance influences cell and tissue function, and improved maintenance is a feature of many interventions, genetic and otherwise, that modestly slow aging in short-lived laboratory species. Looking at all proteases in the context of aging is a little broad for one paper, but the authors here outline the high level view and some specific examples.
Protein quality control ensures the degradation of damaged and misfolded proteins. Derangement of proteostasis is a primary cause of aging and age-associated diseases. The ubiquitin-proteasome and autophagy-lysosome play key roles in proteostasis but, in addition to these systems, the human genome encodes for ~600 proteases, also known as peptidases. Here, we examine the role of proteases in aging and age-related neurodegeneration. Proteases are present across cell compartments, including the extracellular space, and their substrates encompass cellular constituents, proteins with signaling functions, and misfolded proteins.
Proteolytic processing by proteases can lead to changes in the activity and localization of substrates or to their degradation. Proteases cooperate with the autophagy-lysosome and ubiquitin-proteasome systems but also have independent proteolytic roles that impact all hallmarks of cellular aging. Specifically, proteases regulate mitochondrial function, DNA damage repair, cellular senescence, nutrient sensing, stem cell properties and regeneration, protein quality control and stress responses, and intercellular signaling. The capacity of proteases to regulate cellular functions translates into important roles in preserving tissue homeostasis during aging.
Consequently, proteases influence the onset and progression of age-related pathologies and are important determinants of health span. Specifically, we examine how certain proteases promote the progression of Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and/or Parkinson's disease whereas other proteases protect from neurodegeneration. Mechanistically, cleavage by proteases can lead to the degradation of a pathogenic protein and hence impede disease pathogenesis. Alternatively, proteases can generate substrate byproducts with increased toxicity, which promote disease progression. Altogether, these studies indicate the importance of proteases in aging and age-related neurodegeneration.