Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences

, Volume 72, Issue 9, pp 1699–1713 | Cite as

Autophagy and cell reprogramming

  • Shuo Wang
  • Pengyan Xia
  • Markus Rehm
  • Zusen FanEmail author


Autophagy is an evolutionarily conserved process that degrades cytoplasmic components, thus contributing to cell survival and tissue homeostasis. Recent studies have demonstrated that autophagy maintains stem cells in relatively undifferentiated states (stemness) and also contributes to differentiation processes. Autophagy likewise plays a crucial role in somatic cell reprogramming, a finely regulated process that resets differentiated cells to a pluripotent state and that requires comprehensive alterations in transcriptional activities and epigenetic signatures. Autophagy assists in manifesting the functional consequences that arise from these alterations by modifying cellular protein expression profiles. The role of autophagy appears to be particularly relevant for early phases of cell reprogramming during the generation of induced pluripotent stems cells (iPSCs). In this review, we provide an overview of the core molecular machinery that constitutes the autophagic degradation system, describe the roles of autophagy in maintenance, self-renewal, and differentiation of stem cells, and discuss the autophagic process and its regulation during cell reprogramming.


Autophagy Stem cells Self-renewal Differentiation Cell reprogramming 



Activating molecule in Beclin1-regulated autophagy 1


AMP-activated protein kinase


Autophagy-related proteins

Beclin 1

Coiled-coil, myosin-like BCL2-interacting protein


Bafilomycin A1


Cancer stem cell


Chromodomain, helicase, DNA binding


Epithelial–mesenchymal transition


Embryonic stem cell


Fibroblast growth factor




GTPase-activating protein


Hematopoietic stem cell


Induced pluripotent stem cell


Microtubule-associated protein light chain 3


Leukemia inhibitory factor


Methyl-CpG binding domain protein 3


Mammalian target of rapamycin


Nucleosome remodeling and deacetylase


Neural stem cell




Ras homologue enriched in brain


Reactive oxygen species


SRY (sex determining region Y)-box 2


Subventricular zone


Tuberous sclerosis1/2


Unc-51-like kinase


Wiskott–Aldrich syndrome protein and SCAR homologue



This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (31300645, 81330047), 973 Program of the MOST of China (2010CB911902), and the Strategic Priority Research Programs of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (XDA01010407). MR and ZF are supported by the Science Foundation Ireland International Strategic Collaboration Programme: China (ISCP China).


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Copyright information

© Springer Basel 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Shuo Wang
    • 1
  • Pengyan Xia
    • 1
  • Markus Rehm
    • 2
  • Zusen Fan
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.CAS Key Laboratory of Infection and Immunity, Institute of BiophysicsChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  2. 2.Department of Physiology and Medical Physics, Centre for Systems MedicineRoyal College of Surgeons in IrelandDublinIreland

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