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Journal: Autophagy


Macroautophagy (hereafter referred to as autophagy) is an evolutionarily conserved catabolic process necessary for normal recycling of cellular constituents and for appropriate response to cellular stress. Although several genes belonging to the core molecular machinery involved in autophagosome formation have been discovered, relatively little is known about the nature of signaling networks controlling autophagy upon intracellular or extracellular stimuli. We discovered ATG8-like proteins (MAP1LC3B, GABARAP and GABARAPL1) as novel interactors of MAPK15/ERK8, a MAP kinase involved in cell proliferation and transformation. Based on the role of these proteins in the autophagic process, we demonstrated that MAPK15 is indeed localized to autophagic compartments and increased, in a kinase-dependent fashion, ATG8-like proteins lipidation, autophagosome formation and SQSTM1 degradation, while decreasing LC3B inhibitory phosphorylation. Interestingly, we also identified a conserved LC3-interacting region (LIR) in MAPK15 responsible for its interaction with ATG8-like proteins, for its localization to autophagic structures and, consequently, for stimulation of the formation of these compartments. Furthermore, we reveal that MAPK15 activity was induced in response to serum and amino-acid starvation and that this stimulus, in turn, required endogenous MAPK15 expression to induce the autophagic process. Altogether, these results suggested a new function for MAPK15 as a regulator of autophagy, acting through interaction with ATG8 family proteins. Also, based on the key role of this process in several human diseases, these results supported the use of this MAP kinase as a potential novel therapeutic target.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Bacteria, Amino acid, Molecular biology, Signal transduction, Metabolism, Cell membrane


In response to toxic stimuli, BCL2L11 (also known as BIM), a BH3-only protein, is released from its interaction with dynein light chain 1 (DYNLL1 also known as LC8) and can induce apoptosis by inactivating anti-apoptotic BCL2 proteins and by activating BAX-BAK1. Recently, we discovered that BCL2L11 interacts with BECN1 (Beclin 1), and that this interaction is facilitated by DYNLL1. BCL2L11 recruits BECN1 to microtubules by bridging BECN1 and DYNLL1, thereby inhibiting autophagy. In starvation conditions, BCL2L11 is phosphorylated by MAPK8/JNK and this phosphorylation abolishes the BCL2L11-DYNLL1 interaction, allowing dissociation of BCL2L11 and BECN1, thereby ameliorating autophagy inhibition. This finding demonstrates a novel function of BIM beyond its roles in apoptosis, highlighting the crosstalk between autophagy and apoptosis, and suggests that BCL2L11’s dual effects in inhibiting autophagy and promoting apoptosis may have important roles in disease pathogenesis.

Concepts: Signal transduction, Apoptosis, Cell signaling, Proteomics, Kinesin, Bcl-2, DYNLL1, BCL2L11


Atg17, in complex with Atg29 and Atg31, constitutes a key module of the Atg1 kinase signaling complex and functions as an important organizer of the phagophore assembly site in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. We have determined the three-dimensional reconstruction of the full S. cerevisiae Atg17-Atg31-Atg29 complex by single-particle electron microscopy. Our structure shows that Atg17-Atg31-Atg29 is dimeric and adopts a relatively rigid and extended “S-shape” architecture with an end-to-end distance of approximately 345 Å. Subunit mapping analysis indicated that Atg17 mediates dimerization and generates a central rod-like scaffold, while Atg31 and Atg29 form two globular domains that are tethered to the concave sides of the scaffold at the terminal regions. Finally, our observation that Atg17 adopts multiple conformations in the absence of Atg31 and Atg29 suggests that the two smaller components play key roles in defining and maintaining the distinct curvature of the ternary complex.

Concepts: Fungus, Yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Saccharomyces pastorianus, Brewing, Saccharomyces, Saccharomycetes, Saccharomycetaceae


Vacuolar programmed cell death (PCD) is indispensable for plant development and is accompanied by a dramatic growth of lytic vacuoles, which gradually digest cytoplasmic content leading to self-clearance of dying cells. Our recent data demonstrate that vacuolar PCD critically requires autophagy and its upstream regulator, a caspase-fold protease metacaspase. Furthermore, both components lie downstream of the point of no return in the cell-death pathway. Here we consider the possibilities that i) autophagy could have both cytotoxic and cytoprotective roles in the vacuolar PCD, and ii) metacaspase could augment autophagic flux through targeting an as yet unknown autophagy repressor.

Concepts: Protein, Cell, Eukaryote, Organelle, Cytoplasm, Programmed cell death, Vacuole, Plant cell


The highly invasive and chemoresistant phenotype of pancreatic cancer highlights the urgency to identify prognostic biomarkers and novel therapeutic targets. Recently, we observed a significant correlation between shorter survival and loss of the cytoband 18q22.3. Here we investigated genes encoded by this cytoband, and demonstrated the prognostic value of CYB5A in resected and metastatic patients. Furthermore, our in vitro and in vivo studies clarified CYB5A inhibitory activity of oncogenic phenotypes through autophagy induction. This raises the possibility that inhibition of CYB5A-deregulated downstream pathways, such as those involving TRAF6, may favor autophagy-mediated cancer cell death in selected subgroups of patients.

Concepts: Gene, Cancer, Breast cancer, Lung cancer, In vivo, In vitro, Pancreatic cancer, Francis Crick


During the intracellular process of macroautophagy (hereafter autophagy), a membrane bound organelle, the autophagosome, is generated de novo. The remodeling of the autophagic membrane during the lifecycle of the organelle is a complex multistep process and involves several changes in the topology of the autophagic membrane. Here, we focus on the final step of autophagosome formation, the closure of the phagophore, during which the inner and outer autophagic membranes become separate entities. We argue that this topological membrane transformation is a membrane scission event. Surprisingly, not a single recent review describes this substep as membrane scission (or membrane fission). In contrast, a number of publications imply that membrane fusion is involved. We discuss the potential sources for misinterpretation and recommend to consistently use the unambiguous term “membrane scission”.

Concepts: Mathematics, Cell membrane, Organelle, Geometry, Biological membrane, Metric space, Closed set, Autophagy


Prostate cancer (PCa) is the second leading cause of cancer-related death in men; however, the molecular mechanisms leading to its development and progression are not yet fully elucidated. Of note, it has been recently shown that conditional stk11 knockout mice develop atypical hyperplasia and prostate intraepithelial neoplasia (PIN). We recently reported an inverse correlation between the activity of the STK11/AMPK pathway and the MAPK/p38 cascade in HIF1A-dependent malignancies. Furthermore, MAPK/p38 overactivation was detected in benign prostate hyperplasia, PIN and PCa in mice and humans. Here we report that STK11 expression is significantly decreased in PCa compared to normal tissues. Moreover, STK11 protein levels decreased throughout prostate carcinogenesis. To get insight into the role of STK11-MAPK/p38 activity balance in PCa, we treated PCa cell lines and primary biopsies with a well-established MAPK14-MAPK11 inhibitor (SB202190), which has been extensively used in vitro and in vivo. Our results indicate that inhibition of MAPK/p38 significantly affects PCa cell survival in a STK11-dependent manner. Indeed, we found that pharmacologic inactivation of MAPK/p38 does not affect viability of STK11-proficient PCa cells due to the triggering of the AMPK-dependent autophagic pathway, while it induces apoptosis in STK11-deficient cells irrespective of androgen receptor (AR) status. Of note, AMPK inactivation or autophagy inhibition in STK11-proficient cells sensitize SB202190-treated PCa cells to apoptosis. On the other end, reconstitution of functional STK11 in STK11-deficient PCa cells abrogates apoptosis. Collectively, our data show that STK11 is a key factor involved in the early phases of prostate carcinogenesis, and suggest that it might be used as a predictive marker of therapeutic response to MAPK/p38 inhibitors in PCa patients.

Concepts: Cancer, Prostate cancer, Testosterone, Androgen, Enzyme inhibitor, Inhibitor, Benign prostatic hyperplasia, Dihydrotestosterone


Metastatic renal cell carcinomas (mRCC) are highly vascularized tumors that are a paradigm for the treatment with antiangiogenesis drugs targeting the Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF) pathway. The available drugs increase the time to progression but are not curative and the patients eventually relapse. In this study we have focused our attention on the molecular mechanisms leading to resistance to sunitinib, the first line treatment of mRCC. Because of the anarchic vascularization of tumors the core of mRCC tumors receives only suboptimal concentrations of the drug. To mimic this in vivo situation, which is encountered in a neoadjuvant setting, we exposed sunitinib-sensitive mRCC cells to concentrations of sunitinib below the concentration of the drug that gives 50% inhibition of cell proliferation (IC50). At these concentrations, sunitinib accumulated in lysosomes, which downregulated the activity of the lysosomal protease CTSB (cathepsin B) and led to incomplete autophagic flux. Amino acid deprivation, which initiates autophagy enhanced sunitinib resistance through the amplification of autolysosome formation. Sunitinib stimulated the expression of ABCB1 (ATP-binding cassette, sub-family B [MDR/TAP], member 1), which participates in the accumulation of the drug in autolysosomes and favor its cellular efflux. Inhibition of this transporter by elacridar or the permeabilization of lysosome membranes with Leu-Leu-O-methyl (LLOM) resensitized mRCC cells that were resistant to concentrations of sunitinib superior to the IC50. Proteasome inhibitors also induced the death of resistant cells suggesting that the ubiquitin-proteasome system compensates inhibition of autophagy to maintain a cellular homeostasis. Based on our results we propose a new therapeutic approach combining sunitinib with molecules that prevent lysosomal accumulation or inhibit the proteasome.

Concepts: Cancer, Golgi apparatus, Organelle, Endoplasmic reticulum, Vascular endothelial growth factor, Lysosome, Vesicle, Renal cell carcinoma


The Paneth cell is a unique intestinal epithelial cell that can sense the gut microbiome and secrete anti-microbial peptides, thereby playing critical roles in the maintenance of homeostasis at the intestinal-microbial interface. These roles in regulating innate immunity and intestinal microbial ecology are dependent on a functional autophagy pathway through ATG16L1. ATG16L1 is a regulator for autophagy and a risk gene for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). We demonstrated that a low VDR/vitamin D receptor level in the intestine is associated with abnormal Paneth cells, impaired autophagy function, and imbalanced bacterial profile (dysbiosis), accompanied by a reduction of ATG16L1. We determined that VDR transcriptionally regulates ATG16L1 as a VDR target gene. Administration of the bacterial product butyrate increases intestinal VDR expression and suppresses inflammation in a colitis model. Thus, our study indicates that VDR may be a determinant of IBD risk through its actions on ATG16L1. These insights can be leveraged to define therapeutic targets for restoring Paneth cells and autophagy through VDR in chronic inflammation. It may also have applicability for infectious diseases and autoimmune diseases associated with skin or lung, where the host is in contact with bacteria.

Concepts: Immune system, Inflammation, DNA, Bacteria, Organism, Infection, Ulcerative colitis, Inflammatory bowel disease


Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a heterogeneous autoimmune disease, defined by loss of B cell self-tolerance that results in production of antinuclear antibodies (ANA) and chronic inflammation. While the initiating events in lupus development are not well defined, overexpression of the RNA-recognizing toll-like receptor (TLR)7 has been linked to SLE in humans and mice. We postulated that autophagy plays an essential role in TLR7 activation of B cells for the induction of SLE by delivering RNA ligands to the endosomes, where this innate immune receptor resides. To test this hypothesis, we compared SLE development in Tlr7 transgenic (Tg) mice with or without B cell-specific ablation of autophagy (Cd19-Cre Atg5(f/f)). We observed that in the absence of B cell autophagy the 2 hallmarks of SLE, ANA and inflammation, were eliminated, thus curing these mice of lupus. This was also evident in the significantly extended survival of the autophagy-deficient mice compared to Tlr7.1 Tg mice. Furthermore, glomerulonephritis was ameliorated, and the serum levels of inflammatory cytokines in the knockout (KO) mice were indistinguishable from those of control mice. These data provide direct evidence that B cells require TLR7-dependent priming through an autophagy-dependent mechanism before autoimmunity is induced, thereafter involving many cell types. Surprisingly, hyper-IgM production persisted in Tlr7.1 Tg mice in the absence of autophagy, likely involving a different activation pathway than the production of autoantibodies. Furthermore, these mice still presented with anemia, but responded with a striking increase in extramedullary hematopoiesis (EMH), possibly due to the absence of pro-inflammatory cytokines.

Concepts: Immune system, Cell nucleus, Rheumatoid arthritis, Systemic lupus erythematosus, Lupus erythematosus, Glomerulonephritis, Autoimmune diseases, Sjögren's syndrome