Cathepsin D (CD) is an essential lysosomal protease and mice lacking this enzyme exhibit neuropathology similar to that observed in brains of patients with neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosces (NCL/Batten disease), a group of autosomal recessive pediatric neurodegenerative diseases. CD-deficient (CD-/-) brains exhibit a dramatic induction of autophagic stress as defined by the aberrant accumulation of autophagosomes, which is concomitant with markers of apoptosis. However, the signaling abnormalities which lead to CD deficiency-induced neurodegeneration are poorly defined. Since phosphatidylinositol-3 kinase (PI3-K) is known to regulate both apoptosis and autophagy, PI3-K-mediated signaling events were assessed in CD-/- brain at P14 and P25-26. Compared to WT littermate controls, CD-/- cortical neurons exhibited a widespread decrease in phosphorylation of Akt (inactivation) and GSK3β (disinhibition) at P25-26, while levels of total Akt and GSK3β remained unchanged. This P25-26-specific decrease in phosphorylation of Akt and GSK-3β in CD-/- brain coincided temporally with markers of apoptosis but followed the induction of autophagic stress observed at both P14 and P25-26. In addition, levels and/or activation of mTOR and Beclin were not affected by CD deficiency, suggesting that the accumulation of autophagosomes is not due to an increased synthesis of autophagosomes but rather from an inhibition of autophagosome recycling, due most likely to a compromise in lysosome function. Together these observations indicate a pronounced decrease in pro-survival PI3-K signaling in CD -/- brain that may contribute to autophagic stress-induced and apoptotic neuropathology. ©2007 Landes Bioscience.