Autophagosome formation in mammalian cells
- First Online:
Autophagy is a fundamental intracellular trafficking pathway conserved from yeast to mammals. It is generally thought to play a pro-survival role, and it can be up regulated in response to both external and intracellular factors, including amino acid starvation, growth factor withdrawal, low cellular energy levels, endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress, hypoxia, oxidative stress, pathogen infection, and organelle damage. During autophagy initiation a portion of the cytosol is surrounded by a flat membrane sheet known as the isolation membrane or phagophore. The isolation membrane then elongates and seals itself to form an autophagosome. The autophagosome fuses with normal endocytic traffic to mature into a late autophagosome, before fusing with lysosomes. The molecular machinery that enables formation of an autophagosome in response to the various autophagy stimuli is almost completely identified in yeast and—thanks to the observed conservation—is also being rapidly elucidated in higher eukaryotes including mammals. What are less clear and currently under intense investigation are the mechanism by which these various autophagy components co-ordinate in order to generate autophagosomes. In this review, we will discuss briefly the fundamental importance of autophagy in various pathophysiological states and we will then review in detail the various players in early autophagy. Our main thesis will be that a conserved group of heteromeric protein complexes and a relatively simple signalling lipid are responsible for the formation of autophagosomes in mammalian cells.