Anti- and pro-tumor functions of autophagy

Biochim Biophys Acta. 2009 Sep;1793(9):1524-32. doi: 10.1016/j.bbamcr.2009.01.006. Epub 2009 Jan 21.


Autophagy constitutes one of the major responses to stress in eukaryotic cells, and is regulated by a complex network of signaling cascades. Not surprisingly, autophagy is implicated in multiple pathological processes, including infection by pathogens, inflammatory bowel disease, neurodegeneration and cancer. Both oncogenesis and tumor survival are influenced by perturbations of the molecular machinery that controls autophagy. Numerous oncoproteins, including phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase, Akt1 and anti-apoptotic members of the Bcl-2 family suppress autophagy. Conversely, several tumor suppressor proteins (e.g., Atg4c; beclin 1; Bif-1; BH3-only proteins; death-associated protein kinase 1; LKB1/STK11; PTEN; UVRAG) promote the autophagic pathway. This does not entirely apply to p53, one of the most important tumor suppressor proteins, which regulates autophagy in an ambiguous fashion, depending on its subcellular localization. Irrespective of the controversial role of p53, basal levels of autophagy appear to inhibit tumor development. On the contrary, chemotherapy- and metabolic stress-induced activation of the autophagic pathway reportedly contribute to the survival of formed tumors, thereby favoring resistance. In this context, autophagy inhibition would represent a major therapeutic target for chemosensitization. Here, we will review the current knowledge on the dual role of autophagy as an anti- and pro-tumor mechanism.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autophagy*
  • Cytoprotection*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Neoplasms / therapy
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / metabolism


  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53