Autophagy is an evolutionally conserved lysosomal pathway used to degrade and turn over long-lived proteins and cytoplasmic organelles. Since autophagy was discovered, it has been thought to act as a pro-survival response to several stresses, especially starvation, at the cell and organism levels by providing recycled metabolic substrates to maintain energy homeostasis. However, several recent studies suggest that autophagy also plays a pro-death role through an autophagic cell death pathway mostly at the cellular level. The mechanism by which autophagy could perform these seemingly opposite roles as a pro-survival and a pro-death mechanism remained elusive until recently Using C. elegans as a model system, we found that physiological levels of autophagy promote optimal survival of C. elegans during starvation, but either insufficient or excessive levels of autophagy render C. elegans starvation-hypersensitive. Furthermore, we found that muscarinic acetylcholine receptor signaling is important in modulating the level of autophagy during starvation, perhaps through DAP kinase and RGS-2. Our recent study provides in vivo evidence that levels of autophagy are critical in deciding its promotion of either survival or death: Physiological levels of autophagy are pro-survival, whereas insufficient or excessive levels of autophagy are pro-death.
autophagy; muscarinic acetylcholine receptor signaling; starvation; Caenorhabditis elegans; MAP kinase; cancer
Autophagy functions in part as an important host defense mechanism to engulf and degrade intracellular pathogens, a process that has been termed xenophagy. Xenophagy is detrimental to the invading microbe in terms of replication and pathogenesis and many pathogens either dampen the autophagic response, or utilize the pathway to enhance their life cycle. Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) counteracts the induction of xenophagy through its neurovirulence protein, ICP34.5. ICP34.5 binds protein phosphatase 1a to counter PKR-mediated phosphorylation of eIF2α, and also binds the autophagy-promoting protein Beclin 1. Through these interactions, ICP34.5 prevents translational arrest and downregulates the formation of autophagosomes. Whereas autophagy antagonism promotes neurovirulence, it has no impact on the replication of HSV-1 in permissive cultured cells. As discussed in this article, this work raises a number of questions as to the mechanism of ICP34.5-mediated inhibition of autophagy, as well as to the role of autophagy antagonism in the lifecycle of HSV-1.
autophagy; innate immunity; herpes simplex virus; pathogenesis; immunomodulation
Autophagy is an evolutionarily ancient pathway for survival during different forms of cellular stress, including infection with viruses and other intracellular pathogens. Autophagy may protect against viral infection through degradation of viral components (xenophagy), by promoting the survival or death of infected cells, through delivery of Toll-like receptor (TLR) ligands to endosomes to activate innate immunity, or by feeding antigens to MHC class II compartments to activate adaptive immunity. Given this integral role of autophagy in innate and adaptive antiviral immunity, selective pressure likely promoted the emergence of escape mechanisms by pathogenic viruses. This review will briefly summarize the current understanding of autophagy as an antiviral pathway, and then discuss strategies that viruses may utilize to evade this host defense mechanism.
autophagy; virus; xenophagy; immunity; viral evasion
Hypoxia (lack of oxygen) is a physiological stress often associated with solid tumors. Hypoxia correlates with poor prognosis since hypoxic regions within tumors are considered apoptosis-resistant. Autophagy (cellular “self digestion”) has been associated with hypoxia during cardiac ischemia and metabolic stress as a survival mechanism. However, although autophagy is best characterized as a survival response, it can also function as a mechanism of programmed cell death. Our results show that autophagic cell death is induced by hypoxia in cancer cells with intact apoptotic machinery. We have analyzed two glioma cell lines (U87, U373), two breast cancer cell lines (MDA-MB-231, ZR75) and one embryonic cell line (HEK293) for cell death response in hypoxia (<1% O2). Under normoxic conditions, all five cell lines undergo etoposide-induced apoptosis whereas hypoxia fails to induce these apoptotic responses. All five cell lines induce an autophagic response and undergo cell death in hypoxia. Hypoxia-induced cell death was reduced upon treatment with the autophagy inhibitor 3-methyladenine, but not with the caspase inhibitor z-VAD-fmk. By knocking down the autophagy proteins Beclin-1 or ATG5, hypoxia-induced cell death was also reduced. The pro-cell death Bcl-2 family member BNIP3 (Bcl-2/adenovirus E1B 19kDa-interacting protein 3) is upregulated during hypoxia and is known to induce autophagy and cell death. We found that BNIP3 over-expression induced autophagy, while expression of BNIP3 siRNA or a dominant-negative form of BNIP3 reduced hypoxia-induced autophagy. Taken together, these results suggest that prolonged hypoxia induces autophagic cell death in apoptosis-competent cells, through a mechanism involving BNIP3.
PMID: 18059169 CAMSID: cams1903
autophagy; hypoxia; autophagic cell death; BNIP3; cancer
Understanding the role of BNIP3 in the systemic response to hypoxia has been complicated by conflicting results that indicate on the one hand that BNIP3 promotes cell death, and other data, including our own that BNIP3 is not sufficient for cell death, but rather plays a critical role in hypoxia-induced autophagy. This work suggests that rather than promoting death, BNIP3 may actually allow survival either by preventing ATP depletion or by eliminating damaged mitochondria. However, the function of BNIP3 may be subverted under unusual conditions associated with acidosis that arise following extended periods of hypoxia and anaerobic glycolysis. Despite this novel insight into BNIP3 function, much remains to be done in terms of pinning down a molecular activity for BNIP3 that explains both its role in autophagy and how this may be subverted to induce cell death. As a target of the RB tumor suppressor, our work also places BNIP3 at the center of efforts to exploit autophagy to better treat human cancers in which tumor hypoxia is implicated as a progression factor.
BNIP3; hypoxia; mitochondria; autophagy; reactive oxygen species; necrosis; cancer
Cells exploit autophagy for survival to metabolic stress in vitro as well as in tumors where it localizes to regions of metabolic stress suggesting its role as a survival pathway. Consistent with this survival function, deficiency in autophagy impairs cell survival, but also promotes tumor growth, creating a paradox that the loss of a survival pathway leads to tumorigenesis. There is evidence that autophagy is a homeostatic process functioning to limit the accumulation of poly-ubiquitinated proteins and mutant protein aggregates associated with neuronal degeneration.2,3 Interestingly, we found that deficiency in autophagy caused by monoallelic loss of beclin1 or deletion of atg5 leads to accelerated DNA damage and chromosomal instability demonstrating a mutator phenotype.4 These cells also exhibit enhanced chromosomal gains or losses suggesting that autophagy functions as a tumor suppressor by limiting chromosomal instability. Thus the impairment of survival to metabolic stress due to deficiency in autophagy may be compensated by an enhanced mutation rate thereby promoting tumorigenesis. The protective role of autophagy may be exploited in developing novel autophagy modulators as rational chemotherapeutic as well as chemopreventive agents.
autophagy; metabolism; beclin1; atg5; DNA damage; chromosomal instability; cancer
Autophagy is an evolutionarily conserved process of cytoplasm and cellular organelle degradation in lysosomes. Autophagy is a survival pathway required for cellular viability during starvation; however, if it proceeds to completion, autophagy can lead to cell death. In neurons, constitutive autophagy limits accumulation of polyubiquitinated proteins and prevents neuronal degeneration. Therefore, autophagy has emerged as a homeostatic mechanism regulating the turnover of long-lived or damaged proteins and organelles, and buffering metabolic stress under conditions of nutrient deprivation by recycling intracellular constituents. Autophagy also plays a role in tumorigenesis, as the essential autophagy regulator beclin1 is monoallelically deleted in many human ovarian, breast, and prostate cancers, and beclin1+/− mice are tumor-prone. We found that allelic loss of beclin1 renders immortalized mouse mammary epithelial cells susceptible to metabolic stress and accelerates lumen formation in mammary acini. Autophagy defects also activate the DNA damage response in vitro and in mammary tumors in vivo, promote gene amplification, and synergize with defective apoptosis to accelerate mammary tumorigenesis. Thus, loss of the prosurvival role of autophagy likely contributes to breast cancer progression by promoting genome damage and instability. Exploring the yet unknown relationship between defective autophagy and other breast cancer-promoting functions may provide valuable insight into the pathogenesis of breast cancer and may have significant prognostic and therapeutic implications for breast cancer patients.
autophagy; breast cancer; beclin1; DNA damage; genomic instability
Growing evidence supports an active role for dysregulated macroautophagy (autophagic stress) in neuronal cell death and neurodegeneration. Alterations in mitochondrial function and dynamics are also strongly implicated in neurodegenerative diseases. Interestingly, whereas the core autophagy machinery is evolutionarily conserved and shared among constitutive and induced or selective autophagy, recent studies implicate distinct mechanisms regulating mitochondrial autophagy (mitophagy) in response to general autophagic stimuli. Little is known about pathways regulating selective, damage-induced mitophagy. We found that the parkinsonian neurotoxin MPP+ induces autophagy and mitochondrial degradation that is inhibited by siRNA knockdown of autophagy proteins Atg5, Atg7 and Atg8, but occurs independently of Beclin 1, a component of the class III (PIK3C3/Vps34) phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K) complex. Instead, MPP+-induced mitophagy is dependent upon MAPK signaling. Interestingly, all treatments that inhibited autophagy also conferred protection from MPP+-induced cell death. A prior human tissue study further supports a role for ERK/MAPK-regulated autophagy in Parkinson’s and Lewy body diseases. As competition for limiting amounts of Beclin 1 may serve to prevent harmful overactivation of autophagy, understanding mechanisms that bypass or complement a requirement for PI3K-Beclin 1 activity could lead to strategies to modulate autophagic stress in injured or degenerating neurons.
autophagy; mitochondria; Parkinson’s disease; mitogen activated protein kinases; neuronal cell death; oxidative stress
Lysosomal storage diseases (LSDs) are debilitating genetic conditions that frequently manifest as neurodegenerative disorders. They severely affect eye, motor and cognitive functions and, in most cases, abbreviate the lifespan. Postmitotic cells such as neurons and mononuclear phagocytes rich in lysosomes are most often affected by the accumulation of undegraded material. Cell death is well documented in parts of the brain and in other cells of LSD patients and animal models, although little is known about mechanisms by which death pathways are activated in these diseases, and not all cells exhibiting increased storage material are affected by cell death. Lysosomes are essential for maturation and completion of autophagy-initiated protein and organelle degradation. Moreover, accumulation of effete mitochondria has been documented in postmitotic cells whose lysosomal function is suppressed or in aging cells with lipofuscin accumulation. Based upon observations in the literature and our own data showing similar mitochondrial abnormalities in several LSDs, we propose a new model of cell death in LSDs. We suggest that the lysosomal deficiencies in LSDs inhibit autophagic maturation, leading to a condition of autophagic stress. The resulting accumulation of dysfunctional mitochondria showing impaired Ca2+ buffering increases the vulnerability of the cells to pro-apoptotic signals.
autophagy; mitochondrial homeostasis; lysosome; calcium; caspase; programmed cell death; mucolipidosis; neurodegeneration; Niemann-Pick; neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis
Human breast, ovarian, and prostate tumors display allelic loss of the essential autophagy gene beclin1 with high frequency, and an increase in the incidence of tumor formation is observed in beclin1+/− mutant mice. These findings suggest a role for beclin1 and autophagy in tumor suppression; however, the mechanism by which this occurs has been unclear. Autophagy is a bulk degradation process whereby organelles and cytoplasm are engulfed and targeted to lysosomes for proteolysis,1,2 There is evidence that autophagy sustains cell survival during nutrient deprivation through catabolism, but also that autophagy is a means of achieving cell death when executed to completion. If or how either of these diametrically opposing functions proposed for autophagy may be related to tumor suppression is unknown. We found that metabolic stress is a potent trigger of apoptotic cell death, defects in which enable long-term survival that is dependent on autophagy both in vitro and in tumors in vivo.3 These findings raise the conundrum whereby inactivation of a survival pathway (autophagy) promotes tumorigenesis. Interestingly, when cells with defects in apoptosis are denied autophagy, this creates the inability to tolerate metabolic stress, reduces cellular fitness, and activates a necrotic pathway to cell death. This necrosis in tumors is associated with inflammation and enhancement of tumor growth, due to the survival of a small population of surviving, but injured, cells in a microenvironment that favors oncogenesis. Thus, by sustaining metabolism through autophagy during periods of metabolic stress, cells can limit energy depletion, cellular damage, and cell death by necrosis, which may explain how autophagy can prevent cancer, and how loss of a survival function can be tumorigenic.
autophagy; apoptosis; necrosis; Beclin1; cancer
Programmed cell death (PCD) plays critical roles during development and in disease states. One form of programmed cell death utilizes autophagy—a cellular mechanism of degrading bulk cytosolic components—to destroy cells. Previously, the broad-spectrum caspase inhibitor z-Val-Ala-Asp(OMe)-fluoromethylketone (zVAD) was shown to induce autophagic cell death. The mechanism of zVAD-induced cell death was proposed to require caspase-8 inhibition. In our report, we extend these findings to show that—as is the case for apoptosis—induction of autophagic cell death in response to zVAD results in phosphatidylserine exposure prior to loss of membrane integrity. Additionally, we show that caspase-8 inhibition is insufficient to cause autophagic cell death. Rather, the activity of a calpain-like protease must also be blocked. These results reveal the existence of an autophagic PCD-inhibiting calpain-like cysteine protease.
autophagic cell death; calpain; caspase; z-VAD-fmk; L929 fibrosarcoma cells; Annexin-V; phosphatidylserine; apoptosis; calpeptin
Autophagy, a regulated cellular degradation process responsible for the turnover of long-lived proteins and organelles, has been increasingly implicated in neurological disorders. Although autophagy is mostly viewed as a stress-induced process, recent studies have indicated that it is constitutively active in central nervous system (CNS) neurons and is protective against neuro-degeneration. Neurons are highly specialized, post-mitotic cells that are typically composed of a soma (cell body), a dendritic tree and an axon. The detailed process of autophagy in such a highly differentiated cell type remains to be characterized. To elucidate the physiological role of neuronal autophagy, we generated mutant mice containing a neural cell type-specific deletion of Atg7, an essential gene for autophagy. Establishment of these mutant mice allowed us to examine cell-autonomous events in cerebellar Purkinje cells deficient in autophagy. Our data reveal the indispensability of autophagy in the maintenance of axonal homeostasis and the prevention of axonal dystrophy and degeneration. Furthermore, our study implicates dysfunction of axonal autophagy as a potential mechanism underlying axonopathy, which is linked to neurodegeneration associated with numerous human neurological disorders. Finally, our study has raised a possibility that “constitutive autophagy” in neurons involves processes that are not typical of autophagy in other cell types, but rather is highly adapted to local physiological function in the axon, which is projected in a distance from one neuron to another for transducing neural signals.
neurodegeneration; axonal dystrophy; axonopathy; Purkinje cell; Lurcher; Atg7; LC3; protein quality control; membrane homeostasis; autophagosome
An increasing body of data links endoplasmic reticulum (ER) function to autophagy. Not surprisingly, then, some aberrant proteins in the ER can be destroyed either via ER associated degradation (ERAD), which is proteasome-mediated, or via autophagy. One such substrate is the “Z” variant of the alpha-1 protease inhibitor (A1Pi), variably known as A1Pi-Z or AT-Z (“anti-trypsin, Z variant”). The wild type protein is primarily synthesized in the liver and is secreted. In contrast, AT-Z, like other ERAD substrates, is retro-translocated from the ER and delivered to the proteasome. However, AT-Z can form high molecular weight polymers that are degraded via autophagy, and cells that accumulate AT-Z polymers ultimately succumb, which leads to liver disease. Therefore, identifying genes that have an impact AT-Z turnover represents an active area of research. To this end, a yeast expression system for AT-Z has proven valuable. For example, a recent study using this system indicates that the activity of a proteasome assembly chaperone (PAC) is critical for maximal AT-Z turnover, which suggests a new role for PACs. Because PACs are conserved, it will be critical to analyze whether these dedicated chaperones are implicated in other diseases associated with ERAD and autophagy.
anti-trypsin; A1Pi; proteasome; chaperone; proteasome assembly chaperone; PAC; yeast; unfolded protein response; liver disease; apoptosis
Research in autophagy continues to accelerate,1 and as a result many new scientists are entering the field. Accordingly, it is important to establish a standard set of criteria for monitoring macroautophagy in different organisms. Recent reviews have described the range of assays that have been used for this purpose.2,3 There are many useful and convenient methods that can be used to monitor macroautophagy in yeast, but relatively few in other model systems, and there is much confusion regarding acceptable methods to measure macroautophagy in higher eukaryotes. A key point that needs to be emphasized is that there is a difference between measurements that monitor the numbers of autophagosomes versus those that measure flux through the autophagy pathway; thus, a block in macroautophagy that results in autophagosome accumulation needs to be differentiated from fully functional autophagy that includes delivery to, and degradation within, lysosomes (in most higher eukaryotes) or the vacuole (in plants and fungi). Here, we present a set of guidelines for the selection and interpretation of the methods that can be used by investigators who are attempting to examine macroautophagy and related processes, as well as by reviewers who need to provide realistic and reasonable critiques of papers that investigate these processes. This set of guidelines is not meant to be a formulaic set of rules, because the appropriate assays depend in part on the question being asked and the system being used. In addition, we emphasize that no individual assay is guaranteed to be the most appropriate one in every situation, and we strongly recommend the use of multiple assays to verify an autophagic response.
autolysosome; autophagosome; flux; lysosome; phagophore; stress; vacuole
Pathological inclusions containing misfolded proteins are a prominent feature common to many age-related neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. In cultured cells, when the production of misfolded proteins exceeds the capacity of the chaperone refolding system and the ubiquitin-proteasome degradation pathway, misfolded proteins are actively transported along microtubules to pericentriolar inclusions called aggresomes. The aggresomes sequester potentially toxic misfolded proteins and facilitate their clearance by autophagy. The molecular mechanism(s) that targets misfolded proteins to the aggresome-autophagy pathway is mostly unknown. Our recent work identifies parkin-mediated K63-linked polyubiquitination as a signal that couples misfolded proteins to the dynein motor complex via the adaptor protein histone deacetylase 6 and thereby promotes sequestration of misfolded proteins into aggresomes and subsequent clearance by autophagy. Our findings provide insight into the mechanisms underlying aggresome formation and suggest that parkin and K63-linked polyubiquitination may play a role in the autophagic clearance of misfolded proteins.
Parkinson’s disease; autophagy; aggresome; inclusion body; misfolded proteins; parkin; lysine-63; ubiquitination; HDAC6