The variability of autophagy and cell death susceptibility : unanswered questions

Loos, Ben ; Engelbrecht, Anna-Mart ; Lockshin, Richard A. ; Klionsky, Daniel J. ; Zakeri, Zahra (2013-09)

Publication of this article was funded by the Stellenbosch University Open Access Fund.

The original publication is available at


Impaired autophagic machinery is implicated in a number of diseases such as heart disease, neurodegeneration and cancer. A common denominator in these pathologies is a dysregulation of autophagy that has been linked to a change in susceptibility to cell death. Although we have progressed in understanding the molecular machinery and regulation of the autophagic pathway, many unanswered questions remain. How does the metabolic contribution of autophagy connect with the cell’s history and how does its current autophagic flux affect metabolic status and susceptibility to undergo cell death? How does autophagic flux operate to switch metabolic direction and what are the underlying mechanisms in metabolite and energetic sensing, metabolite substrate provision and metabolic integration during the cellular stress response? In this article we focus on unresolved questions that address issues around the role of autophagy in sensing the energetic environment and its role in actively generating metabolite substrates. We attempt to provide answers by explaining how and when a change in autophagic pathway activity such as primary stress response is able to affect cell viability and when not. By addressing the dynamic metabolic relationship between autophagy, apoptosis and necrosis we provide a new perspective on the parameters that connect autophagic activity, severity of injury and cellular history in a logical manner. Last, by evaluating the cell’s condition and autophagic activity in a clear context of regulatory parameters in the intra- and extracellular environment, this review provides new concepts that set autophagy into an energetic feedback loop, that may assist in our understanding of autophagy in maintaining healthy cells or when it controls the threshold between cell death and cell survival.

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