Autophagosome biogenesis occurs in the transient subdomains of the endoplasmic reticulum that are called omegasomes, which, in fluorescence microscopy, appear as small puncta, which then grow in diameter and finally shrink and disappear once the autophagosome is complete. Autophagosomes are formed by phagophores, which are membrane cisterns that elongate and close to form the double membrane that limits autophagosomes. Earlier electron-microscopy studies showed that, during elongation, phagophores are lined by the endoplasmic reticulum on both sides. However, the morphology of the very early phagophore precursors has not been studied at the electron-microscopy level. We used live-cell imaging of cells expressing markers of phagophore biogenesis combined with correlative light-electron microscopy, as well as electron tomography of ATG2A/B-double-deficient cells, to reveal the high-resolution morphology of phagophore precursors in three dimensions. We showed that phagophores are closed or nearly closed into autophagosomes already at the stage when the omegasome diameter is still large. We further observed that phagophore precursors emerge next to the endoplasmic reticulum as bud-like highly curved membrane cisterns with a small opening to the cytosol. The phagophore precursors then open to form more flat cisterns that elongate and curve to form the classically described crescent-shaped phagophores.
Keywords: ATG13; ATG2; DFCP1; autophagy; correlative light-electron microscopy; isolation membrane; omegasome; phagophore.