Autophagy is a cellular pathway involved in protein and organelle degradation, which is likely to represent an innate adaptation to starvation. In times of nutrient deficiency, the cell can self-digest and recycle some nonessential components through nonselective autophagy, thus sustaining minimal growth requirements until a food source becomes available. Over recent years, autophagy has been implicated in an increasing number of clinical scenarios, notably infectious diseases, cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, and autoimmunity. The recent identification of the importance of autophagy genes in the genetic susceptibility to Crohn's disease suggests that a selective autophagic response may play a crucial role in the pathogenesis of common complex immune-mediated diseases. In this review, we discuss the autophagic mechanisms, their molecular regulation, and summarize their clinical relevance. This progress has led to great interest in the therapeutic potential of manipulation of both selective and nonselective autophagy in established disease.