Understanding the cellular responses caused by metabolic stress is crucial for the design of robust fed-batch bioprocesses that maximize the expression of recombinant proteins. Chinese hamster ovary cells were investigated in chemically defined, serum-free cultures yielding 107 cells/mL and up to 500 mg/L recombinant tissue-plasminogen activator (t-PA). Upon glutamine depletion increased autophagosome formation and autophagic flux were observed, along with decreased proliferation and high viability. Higher lysosomal levels correlated with decreased productivity. Chemical inhibition of autophagy with 3-methyl adenine (3-MA) increased the t-PA yield by 2.8-fold. Autophagy-related MAP1LC3 and LAMP2 mRNA levels increased continuously in all cultures. Analysis of protein quality revealed that 3-MA treatment did not alter glycan antennarity while increasing fucosylation, galactosylation, and sialylation. Taken together, these findings indicate that inhibition of autophagy can considerably increase the yield of biotechnology fed-batch processes, without compromising the glycosylation capacity of cells. Monitoring or genetic engineering of autophagy provides novel avenues to improve the performance of cell culture-based recombinant protein production. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2012; 109:1228–1238. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
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