Role of ATG8 and autophagy in programmed nuclear degradation in Tetrahymena thermophila

Eukaryot Cell. 2012 Apr;11(4):494-506. doi: 10.1128/EC.05296-11. Epub 2012 Feb 24.


Autophagy is an evolutionarily conserved mechanism for the degradation of cellular components, but its role in enucleation during differentiation has not been established. Tetrahymena thermophila is a unicellular eukaryote with two functionally distinct nuclei, the somatic (macro-) and the germ line (micro-) nuclei. These nuclei are produced during sexual reproduction (conjugation), which involves differentiation and selective degradation of several specific nuclei. To examine the role of autophagy in nuclear degradation, we studied the function of two ATG8 genes in Tetrahymena. Through fluorescent protein tagging, we found that both proteins are targeted to degrading nuclei at specific stages, with some enrichment on the nuclear periphery, suggesting the formation of autophagosomes surrounding these nuclei. In addition, ATG8 knockout mutant cells showed a pronounced delay in nuclear degradation without apparently preventing the completion of other developmental events. This evidence provided direct support for a critical role for autophagy in programmed nuclear degradation. The results also showed differential roles for two ATG8 genes, with ATG8-65 playing a more significant role in starvation than ATG8-2, although both are important in nuclear degradation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Autophagy / genetics*
  • Conserved Sequence
  • DNA, Protozoan / metabolism
  • Macronucleus / metabolism*
  • Microbial Viability
  • Micronucleus, Germline / metabolism*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Protein Transport
  • Protozoan Proteins / metabolism
  • Protozoan Proteins / physiology*
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / metabolism
  • Reproduction
  • Tetrahymena thermophila / genetics
  • Tetrahymena thermophila / metabolism
  • Tetrahymena thermophila / physiology*


  • DNA, Protozoan
  • Protozoan Proteins
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins