Selective autophagic degradation of cellular components underlies many of the important physiological and pathological implications that autophagy has for mammalian cells. Cytoplasmic vesicles, just like other intracellular items, can be subjected to conventional autophagic events where double-membrane autophagosomes specifically isolate and deliver them for lysosomal destruction. However, intracellular membranes appear to constitute common platforms for unconventional versions of the autophagic pathway, a notion that has become apparent during the past few years. For instance, in many cases of autophagy directed against bacterial phagosomes, subversion of the process results in multimembrane vacuoles that promote bacterial replication instead of the usual degradative outcome. In a different atypical modality, single-membrane vesicles can be labeled with LC3 to direct their contents for lysosomal degradation. In fact, single-membrane compartments of various kinds often provide an assembly site for the autophagic machinery to perform unanticipated nondegradative activities that range from localized secretion of lysosomal contents to melanosome function. Interestingly, many of these unconventional processes seem to be initiated through engagement of relevant nodes of the autophagic signaling network that, once activated, promote LC3 decoration of the targeted membrane, and some cases of inducer/receptor proteins that specifically engage those important signaling hubs have recently been described. Here we review the available examples of all autophagic variants involving membranous compartments, with a main focus on the more recently discovered unconventional phenomena where the usual degradation purpose of autophagy or its canonical mechanistic features are not completely conserved.
Keywords: autophagic signaling nodes; nondegradative autophagy; protein receptors; selective autophagy; single-membrane compartments; unconventional autophagy.