Identification of secreted proteins that reflect autophagy dynamics within tumor cells

Autophagy. 2015;11(1):60-74. doi: 10.4161/15548627.2014.984273.


Macroautophagy, a catabolic process of cellular self-digestion, is an important tumor cell survival mechanism and a potential target in antineoplastic therapies. Recent discoveries have implicated autophagy in the cellular secretory process, but potential roles of autophagy-mediated secretion in modifying the tumor microenvironment are poorly understood. Furthermore, efforts to inhibit autophagy in clinical trials have been hampered by suboptimal methods to quantitatively measure tumor autophagy levels. Here, we leveraged the autophagy-based involvement in cellular secretion to identify shed proteins associated with autophagy levels in melanoma. The secretome of low-autophagy WM793 melanoma cells was compared to its highly autophagic metastatic derivative, 1205Lu in physiological 3-dimensional cell culture using quantitative proteomics. These comparisons identified candidate autophagy biomarkers IL1B (interleukin 1, β), CXCL8 (chemokine (C-X-C motif) ligand 8), LIF (leukemia inhibitory factor), FAM3C (family with sequence similarity 3, member C), and DKK3 (dickkopf WNT signaling pathway inhibitor 3) with known roles in inflammation and tumorigenesis, and these proteins were subsequently shown to be elevated in supernatants of an independent panel of high-autophagy melanoma cell lines. Secretion levels of these proteins increased when low-autophagy melanoma cells were treated with the autophagy-inducing tat-BECN1 (Beclin 1) peptide and decreased when ATG7 (autophagy-related 7) was silenced in high-autophagy cells, thereby supporting a mechanistic link between these secreted proteins and autophagy. In addition, serum from metastatic melanoma patients with high tumor autophagy levels exhibited higher levels of these proteins than serum from patients with low-autophagy tumors. These results suggest that autophagy-related secretion affects the tumor microenvironment and measurement of autophagy-associated secreted proteins in plasma and possibly in tumors can serve as surrogates for intracellular autophagy dynamics in tumor cells.

Keywords: ATG5, autophagy-related 5; ATG7, autophagy-related 7; AV, autophagic vacuole; BECN1, Beclin 1, autophagy-related; CXCL8, chemokine (C-X-C motif) ligand 8; DKK3, dickkopf WNT signaling pathway inhibitor 3; EGF, epidermal growth factor; IF, interstitial fluid; IL1B, interleukin 1, β; LC3/MAP1LC3, microtubule-associated protein 1 light chain 3; LIF, leukemia inhibitory factor; M, media; PtdIns3K, phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase; SAM, significance analysis of microarrays; autophagy; biomarker; cancer; melanoma; secretome.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Autophagy*
  • Autophagy-Related Protein 7
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / blood
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Culture Media
  • Gene Silencing
  • Humans
  • Melanoma / blood
  • Melanoma / pathology*
  • Melanoma / ultrastructure
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Neoplasm Proteins / blood
  • Neoplasm Proteins / metabolism*
  • RNA, Small Interfering / metabolism
  • Spheroids, Cellular / pathology
  • Spheroids, Cellular / ultrastructure
  • Ubiquitin-Activating Enzymes / metabolism


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Culture Media
  • Neoplasm Proteins
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • Atg7 protein, human
  • Autophagy-Related Protein 7
  • Ubiquitin-Activating Enzymes