Autophagy and cancer therapy

Autophagy. Apr-Jun 2006;2(2):85-90. doi: 10.4161/auto.2.2.2463. Epub 2006 Apr 29.


Autophagy is a dynamic process of protein degradation, which is typically observed during nutrient deprivation. Recently, interest in autophagy has been renewed among oncologists, because different types of cancer cells undergo autophagy after various anticancer therapies. This type of nonapoptotic cell death has been documented mainly by observing morphological changes, e.g., numerous autophagic vacuoles in the cytoplasm of dying cells. Thus, autophagic cell death is considered programmed cell death type II, whereas apoptosis is programmed cell death type I. These two types of cell death are predominantly distinctive, but many studies demonstrate cross-talk between them. Whether autophagy in cancer cells causes death or protects cells is controversial. In multiple studies, autophagy has been inhibited pharmacologically or genetically, resulting in contrasting outcomes--survival or death--depending on the specific context. Interestingly, the regulatory pathways of autophagy share several molecules with the oncogenic pathways activated by tyrosine kinase receptors. Tumor suppressors such as Beclin 1, PTEN and p53 also play an important role in autophagy induction. Taken together, these accumulating data may lead to development of new cancer therapies that manipulate autophagy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / adverse effects
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Autophagy / drug effects
  • Autophagy / physiology*
  • Cell Death / drug effects
  • Cell Death / physiology*
  • Genes, Tumor Suppressor / physiology
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*


  • Antineoplastic Agents