Cell and Tissue Research

, Volume 374, Issue 2, pp 205–216 | Cite as

Roles of autophagy in controlling stem cell identity: a perspective of self-renewal and differentiation

  • Areechun Sotthibundhu
  • Wilasinee Promjuntuek
  • Min Liu
  • Sanbing Shen
  • Parinya NoisaEmail author


Autophagy is crucial for the removal of dysfunctional organelles and protein aggregates and for maintaining stem cell homeostasis, which includes self-renewal, cell differentiation and somatic reprogramming. Loss of self-renewal capacity and pluripotency is a major obstacle to stem cell-based therapies. It has been reported that autophagy regulates stem cells under biological stimuli, starvation, hypoxia, generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and cellular senescence. On the one hand, autophagy is shown to play roles in self-renewal by co-function with the ubiquitin-proteasome system (UPS) to promote pluripotency-associated proteins (NANOG, OCT4 and SOX2) in human embryonic stem cells (hESCs). On the other hand, autophagy activity acts as cell reprogramming processes that play an important role for clearance fate determination and upregulates neural and cardiac differentiation. Deregulation of autophagy triggers protein disorders such as neurodegenerative cardiac/muscle diseases and cancer. Therefore, understanding of the roles of the autophagy in stem cell renewal and differentiation may benefit therapeutic development for a range of human diseases.


Autophagy Stem cells Self-renewal Differentiation Brain development 



PN was supported by the Suranaree University of Technology (SUT), the Office of the Higher Education Commission under the NRU project of Thailand. AS was supported by a grant from the Chulabhorn International College of Medicine Research Fund 2016.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Chulabhorn International College of MedicineThammasat UniversityRangsitThailand
  2. 2.Laboratory of Cell-Based Assays and Innovations, School of Biotechnology, Institute of Agricultural TechnologySuranaree University of TechnologyNakhon RatchasimaThailand
  3. 3.Regenerative Medicine Institute, Biomedical Sciences Building, School of MedicineNational University of Ireland (NUI) GalwayGalwayIreland

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