Background: Huntington's disease is caused by aggregation of mutant huntingtin (mHtt) protein containing more than a 36 polyQ repeat. Upregulation of macroautophagy was suggested as a neuroprotective strategy to degrade mutant huntingtin. However, macroautophagy initiation has been shown to be highly efficient in neurons whereas lysosomal activities are rate limiting. The role of the lysosomal and other proteases in Huntington is not clear. Some studies suggest that certain protease activities may contribute to toxicity whereas others are consistent with protection. These discrepancies may be due to a number of mechanisms including distinct effects of the specific intermediate digestion products of mutant huntingtin generated by different proteases. These observations suggested a critical need to investigate the consequence of upregulation of individual lysosomal enzyme in mutant huntingtin accumulation and toxicity. Results: In this study, we used molecular approaches to enhance lysosomal protease activities and examined their effects on mutant huntingtin level and toxicity. We found that enhanced expression of lysosomal cathepsins D and B resulted in their increased enzymatic activities and reduced both full-length and fragmented huntingtin in transfected HEK cells. Furthermore, enhanced expression of cathepsin D or B protected against mutant huntingtin toxicity in primary neurons, and their neuroprotection is dependent on macroautophagy. Conclusions: These observations demonstrate a neuroprotective effect of enhancing lysosomal cathepsins in reducing mutant huntingtin level and toxicity in transfected cells. They highlight the potential importance of neuroprotection mediated by cathepsin D or B through macroautophagy. © 2011 Liang et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.