Autophagy as a target for cancer therapy: new developments

Cancer Manag Res. 2012;4:357-65. doi: 10.2147/CMAR.S26133. Epub 2012 Oct 11.


Autophagy is an evolutionarily conserved lysosomal degradation pathway that eliminates cytosolic proteins, macromolecules, organelles, and protein aggregates. Activation of autophagy may function as a tumor suppressor by degrading defective organelles and other cellular components. However, this pathway may also be exploited by cancer cells to generate nutrients and energy during periods of starvation, hypoxia, and stress induced by chemotherapy. Therefore, induction of autophagy has emerged as a drug resistance mechanism that promotes cancer cell survival via self-digestion. Numerous preclinical studies have demonstrated that inhibition of autophagy enhances the activity of a broad array of anticancer agents. Thus, targeting autophagy may be a global anticancer strategy that may improve the efficacy of many standard of care agents. These results have led to multiple clinical trials to evaluate autophagy inhibition in combination with conventional chemotherapy. In this review, we summarize the anticancer agents that have been reported to modulate autophagy and discuss new developments in autophagy inhibition as an anticancer strategy.

Keywords: apoptosis; autophagy; cancer; chloroquine; lucanthone.