Autophagy in animal development

Cell Death Differ. 2020 Mar;27(3):903-918. doi: 10.1038/s41418-020-0497-0. Epub 2020 Jan 27.


Macroautophagy (autophagy) delivers intracellular constituents to the lysosome to promote catabolism. During development in multiple organisms, autophagy mediates various cellular processes, including survival during starvation, programmed cell death, phagocytosis, organelle elimination, and miRNA regulation. Our current understanding of autophagy has been enhanced by developmental biology research during the last quarter of a century. Through experiments that focus on animal development, fundamental mechanisms that control autophagy and that contribute to disease were elucidated. Studies in embryos revealed specific autophagy molecules that mediate the removal of paternally derived mitochondria, and identified autophagy components that clear protein aggregates during development. Importantly, defects in mtDNA inheritance, or removal of paternal mtDNA via mitochondrial autophagy, can contribute to mitochondrial-associated disease. In addition, impairment of the clearance of protein aggregates by autophagy underlies neurodegenerative diseases. Experiments in multiple organisms also reveal conserved mechanisms of tissue remodeling that rely on the cooperation between autophagy and apoptosis to clear cell corpses, and defects in autophagy and apoptotic cell clearance can contribute to inflammation and autoimmunity. Here we provide an overview of key developmental processes that are mediated by autophagy in multiple animals.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / genetics
  • Autophagy* / genetics
  • Embryonic Development* / genetics
  • Metamorphosis, Biological / genetics
  • MicroRNAs / genetics
  • MicroRNAs / metabolism
  • Regeneration / genetics


  • MicroRNAs