VHL suppresses autophagy and tumor growth through PHD1-dependent Beclin1 hydroxylation

EMBO J. 2024 Mar;43(6):931-955. doi: 10.1038/s44318-024-00051-2. Epub 2024 Feb 15.


The Von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) protein, which is frequently mutated in clear-cell renal cell carcinoma (ccRCC), is a master regulator of hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) that is involved in oxidative stresses. However, whether VHL possesses HIF-independent tumor-suppressing activity remains largely unclear. Here, we demonstrate that VHL suppresses nutrient stress-induced autophagy, and its deficiency in sporadic ccRCC specimens is linked to substantially elevated levels of autophagy and correlates with poorer patient prognosis. Mechanistically, VHL directly binds to the autophagy regulator Beclin1, after its PHD1-mediated hydroxylation on Pro54. This binding inhibits the association of Beclin1-VPS34 complexes with ATG14L, thereby inhibiting autophagy initiation in response to nutrient deficiency. Expression of non-hydroxylatable Beclin1 P54A abrogates VHL-mediated autophagy inhibition and significantly reduces the tumor-suppressing effect of VHL. In addition, Beclin1 P54-OH levels are inversely correlated with autophagy levels in wild-type VHL-expressing human ccRCC specimens, and with poor patient prognosis. Furthermore, combined treatment of VHL-deficient mouse tumors with autophagy inhibitors and HIF2α inhibitors suppresses tumor growth. These findings reveal an unexpected mechanism by which VHL suppresses tumor growth, and suggest a potential treatment for ccRCC through combined inhibition of both autophagy and HIF2α.

Keywords: Autophagy; Beclin1; Hydroxylation; VHL; ccRCC.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autophagy
  • Beclin-1* / genetics
  • Beclin-1* / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Renal Cell* / metabolism
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Humans
  • Hydroxylation
  • Kidney Neoplasms* / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Procollagen-Proline Dioxygenase / metabolism
  • Von Hippel-Lindau Tumor Suppressor Protein* / genetics
  • Von Hippel-Lindau Tumor Suppressor Protein* / metabolism


  • Beclin-1
  • PHD1 protein, mouse
  • Procollagen-Proline Dioxygenase
  • VHL protein, human
  • Von Hippel-Lindau Tumor Suppressor Protein
  • EGLN2 protein, human
  • BECN1 protein, human