Autophagy is a conserved quality-control pathway that degrades cytoplasmic contents in lysosomes. Autophagy degrades lipid droplets through a process termed lipophagy. Starvation and an acute lipid stimulus increase autophagic sequestration of lipid droplets and their degradation in lysosomes. Accordingly, liver-specific deletion of the autophagy gene Atg7 increases hepatic fat content, mimicking the human condition termed nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. In this review, we provide insights into the molecular regulation of lipophagy, discuss fundamental questions related to the mechanisms by which autophagosomes recognize lipid droplets and how ATG proteins regulate membrane curvature for lipid droplet sequestration, and comment on the possibility of cross talk between lipophagy and cytosolic lipases in lipid mobilization. Finally, we discuss the contribution of lipophagy to the pathophysiology of human fatty liver disease. Understanding how lipophagy clears hepatocellular lipid droplets could provide new ways to prevent fatty liver disease, a major epidemic in developed nations.
Keywords: lipases; lipophagy; lysosome; metabolism; steatosis.