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Biol Rev Camb Philos Soc. 2009 Aug;84(3):431-48. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-185X.2009.00082.x.

Multiple roles of the cytoskeleton in autophagy.

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  • 1Department of Cell Biology and Institute of Biomembranes, University Medical Centre Utrecht, 3584 CX Utrecht, The Netherlands.


Autophagy is involved in a wide range of physiological processes including cellular remodeling during development, immuno-protection against heterologous invaders and elimination of aberrant or obsolete cellular structures. This conserved degradation pathway also plays a key role in maintaining intracellular nutritional homeostasis and during starvation, for example, it is involved in the recycling of unnecessary cellular components to compensate for the limitation of nutrients. Autophagy is characterized by specific membrane rearrangements that culminate with the formation of large cytosolic double-membrane vesicles called autophagosomes. Autophagosomes sequester cytoplasmic material that is destined for degradation. Once completed, these vesicles dock and fuse with endosomes and/or lysosomes to deliver their contents into the hydrolytically active lumen of the latter organelle where, together with their cargoes, they are broken down into their basic components. Specific structures destined for degradation via autophagy are in many cases selectively targeted and sequestered into autophagosomes. A number of factors required for autophagy have been identified, but numerous questions about the molecular mechanism of this pathway remain unanswered. For instance, it is unclear how membranes are recruited and assembled into autophagosomes. In addition, once completed, these vesicles are transported to cellular locations where endosomes and lysosomes are concentrated. The mechanism employed for this directed movement is not well understood. The cellular cytoskeleton is a large, highly dynamic cellular scaffold that has a crucial role in multiple processes, several of which involve membrane rearrangements and vesicle-mediated events. Relatively little is known about the roles of the cytoskeleton network in autophagy. Nevertheless, some recent studies have revealed the importance of cytoskeletal elements such as actin microfilaments and microtubules in specific aspects of autophagy. In this review, we will highlight the results of this work and discuss their implications, providing possible working models. In particular, we will first describe the findings obtained with the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, for long the leading organism for the study of autophagy, and, successively, those attained in mammalian cells, to emphasize possible differences between eukaryotic organisms.

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