Tumor suppression by autophagy through the management of metabolic stress

Autophagy. 2008 Jul;4(5):563-6. Epub 2008 Mar 3.


Autophagy plays a critical protective role maintaining energy homeostasis and protein and organelle quality control. These functions are particularly important in times of metabolic stress and in cells with high energy demand such as cancer cells. In emerging cancer cells, autophagy defect may cause failure of energy homeostasis and protein and organelle quality control, leading to the accumulation of cellular damage in metabolic stress. Some manifestations of this damage, such as activation of the DNA damage response and generation of genome instability may promote tumor initiation and drive cell-autonomous tumor progression. In addition, in solid tumors, autophagy localizes to regions that are metabolically stressed. Defects in autophagy impair the survival of tumor cells in these areas, which is associated with increased cell death and inflammation. The cytokine response from inflammation may promote tumor growth and accelerate cell non-autonomous tumor progression. The overreaching theme is that autophagy protects cells from damage accumulation under conditions of metabolic stress allowing efficient tolerance and recovery from stress, and that this is a critical and novel tumor suppression mechanism. The challenge now is to define the precise aspects of autophagy, including energy homeostasis and protein and organelle turnover, that are required for the proper management of metabolic stress that suppress tumorigenesis. Furthermore, we need to be able to identify human tumors with deficient autophagy, and to develop rational cancer therapies that take advantage of the altered metabolic state and stress responses inherent to this autophagy defect.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autophagy / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Oxidative Stress / physiology*