Autophagy is a major catabolic pathway by which eukaryotic cells degrade and recycle macromolecules and organelles. This pathway is activated under environmental stress conditions, during development and in various pathological situations. In this study, we describe the role of reactive oxygen species (ROS) as signaling molecules in starvation-induced autophagy. We show that starvation stimulates formation of ROS, specifically H(2)O(2). These oxidative conditions are essential for autophagy, as treatment with antioxidative agents abolished the formation of autophagosomes and the consequent degradation of proteins. Furthermore, we identify the cysteine protease HsAtg4 as a direct target for oxidation by H(2)O(2), and specify a cysteine residue located near the HsAtg4 catalytic site as a critical for this regulation. Expression of this regulatory mutant prevented the formation of autophagosomes in cells, thus providing a molecular mechanism for redox regulation of the autophagic process.