Role of the Crosstalk between Autophagy and Apoptosis in Cancer

J Oncol. 2013;2013:102735. doi: 10.1155/2013/102735. Epub 2013 Jun 5.


Autophagy and apoptosis are catabolic pathways essential for organismal homeostasis. Autophagy is normally a cell-survival pathway involving the degradation and recycling of obsolete, damaged, or harmful macromolecular assemblies; however, excess autophagy has been implicated in type II cell death. Apoptosis is the canonical programmed cell death pathway. Autophagy and apoptosis have now been shown to be interconnected by several molecular nodes of crosstalk, enabling the coordinate regulation of degradation by these pathways. Normally, autophagy and apoptosis are both tumor suppressor pathways. Autophagy fulfils this role as it facilitates the degradation of oncogenic molecules, preventing development of cancers, while apoptosis prevents the survival of cancer cells. Consequently, defective or inadequate levels of either autophagy or apoptosis can lead to cancer. However, autophagy appears to have a dual role in cancer, as it has now been shown that autophagy also facilitates the survival of tumor cells in stress conditions such as hypoxic or low-nutrition environments. Here we review the multiple molecular mechanisms of coordination of autophagy and apoptosis and the role of the proteins involved in this crosstalk in cancer. A comprehensive understanding of the interconnectivity of autophagy and apoptosis is essential for the development of effective cancer therapeutics.