Development by self-digestion: molecular mechanisms and biological functions of autophagy

Dev Cell. 2004 Apr;6(4):463-77. doi: 10.1016/s1534-5807(04)00099-1.


Autophagy is the major cellular pathway for the degradation of long-lived proteins and cytoplasmic organelles. It involves the rearrangement of subcellular membranes to sequester cargo for delivery to the lysosome where the sequestered material is degraded and recycled. For many decades, it has been known that autophagy occurs in a wide range of eukaryotic organisms and in multiple different cell types during starvation, cellular and tissue remodeling, and cell death. However, until recently, the functions of autophagy in normal development were largely unknown. The identification of a set of evolutionarily conserved genes that are essential for autophagy has opened up new frontiers for deciphering the role of autophagy in diverse biological processes. In this review, we summarize our current knowledge about the molecular machinery of autophagy and the role of the autophagic machinery in eukaryotic development.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autophagy / genetics
  • Autophagy / physiology*
  • Cell Death / physiology
  • Cellular Senescence / physiology
  • Eukaryotic Cells / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Lysosomes / metabolism*
  • Peptide Hydrolases / metabolism
  • Protein Transport / physiology


  • Peptide Hydrolases