Cell death by autophagy: emerging molecular mechanisms and implications for cancer therapy

Oncogene. 2015 Oct 1;34(40):5105-13. doi: 10.1038/onc.2014.458. Epub 2015 Jan 26.


Autophagy is a tightly-regulated catabolic process of cellular self-digestion by which cellular components are targeted to lysosomes for their degradation. Key functions of autophagy are to provide energy and metabolic precursors under conditions of starvation and to alleviate stress by removal of damaged proteins and organelles, which are deleterious for cell survival. Therefore, autophagy appears to serve as a pro-survival stress response in most settings. However, the role of autophagy in modulating cell death is highly dependent on the cellular context and its extent. There is an increasing evidence for cell death by autophagy, in particular in developmental cell death in lower organisms and in autophagic cancer cell death induced by novel cancer drugs. The death-promoting and -executing mechanisms involved in the different paradigms of autophagic cell death (ACD) are very diverse and complex, but a draft scenario of the key molecular targets involved in ACD is beginning to emerge. This review provides an up-to-date and comprehensive report on the molecular mechanisms of drug-induced autophagy-dependent cell death and highlights recent key findings in this exciting field of research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Autophagy / drug effects*
  • Autophagy / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*


  • Antineoplastic Agents