Does autophagy have a license to kill mammalian cells?

Cell Death Differ. 2009 Jan;16(1):12-20. doi: 10.1038/cdd.2008.101. Epub 2008 Jul 4.


Macroautophagy is an evolutionarily conserved vacuolar, self-digesting mechanism for cellular components, which end up in the lysosomal compartment. In mammalian cells, macroautophagy is cytoprotective, and protects the cells against the accumulation of damaged organelles or protein aggregates, the loss of interaction with the extracellular matrix, and the toxicity of cancer therapies. During periods of nutrient starvation, stimulating macroautophagy provides the fuel required to maintain an active metabolism and the production of ATP. Macroautophagy can inhibit the induction of several forms of cell death, such as apoptosis and necrosis. However, it can also be part of the cascades of events that lead to cell death, either by collaborating with other cell death mechanisms or by causing cell death on its own. Loss of the regulation of bulk macroautophagy can prime self-destruction by cells, and some forms of selective autophagy and non-canonical forms of macroautophagy have been shown to be associated with cell demise. There is now mounting evidence that autophagy and apoptosis share several common regulatory elements that are crucial in any attempt to understand the dual role of autophagy in cell survival and cell death.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphate / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / physiology
  • Autophagy / physiology*
  • Cell Survival / physiology
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology
  • Extracellular Matrix / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Multiprotein Complexes / metabolism
  • Necrosis / metabolism
  • Organelles / metabolism


  • Multiprotein Complexes
  • Adenosine Triphosphate