Autophagy wins the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine: Breakthroughs in baker's yeast fuel advances in biomedical research

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2017 Jan 10;114(2):201-205. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1619876114. Epub 2016 Dec 30.


Autophagy is an ancient pathway in which parts of eukaryotic cells are self-digested within the lysosome or vacuole. This process has been studied for the past seven decades; however, we are only beginning to gain a molecular understanding of the key steps required for autophagy. Originally characterized as a hormonal and starvation response, we now know that autophagy has a much broader role in biology, including organellar remodeling, protein and organelle quality control, prevention of genotoxic stress, tumor suppression, pathogen elimination, regulation of immunity and inflammation, maternal DNA inheritance, metabolism, and cellular survival. Although autophagy is usually a degradative pathway, it also participates in biosynthetic and secretory processes. Given that autophagy has a fundamental role in many essential cellular functions, it is not surprising that autophagic dysfunction is associated with a wide range of human diseases. Genetic studies in various fungi, particularly Saccharomyces cerevisiae, provided the key initial breakthrough that led to an explosion of research on the basic mechanisms and the physiological connections of autophagy to health and disease. The Nobel Committee has recognized this breakthrough by the awarding of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for research in autophagy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autophagy*
  • Awards and Prizes*
  • Biomedical Research
  • Humans
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae