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Genes Dev. 2011 Oct 1;25(19):1999-2010. doi: 10.1101/gad.17558811.

The dynamic nature of autophagy in cancer.

Author information

  • Division of Genomic Stability and DNA Repair, Department of Radiation Oncology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA. alec_kimmelman@dfci.harvard.edu

Abstract

Macroautophagy (referred to hereafter as autophagy) is a highly regulated cellular process that serves to remove damaged proteins and organelles from the cell. Autophagy contributes to an array of normal and pathological processes, and has recently emerged as a key regulator of multiple aspects of cancer biology. The role of autophagy in cancer is complex and is likely dependent on tumor type, stage, and genetic context. This complexity is illustrated by the identification of settings where autophagy acts potently to either promote or inhibit tumorigenesis. In this review, I discuss the underlying basis for these opposing functions and propose a model suggesting a dynamic role for autophagy in malignancy. Collectively, the data point to autophagy as serving as a barrier to limit tumor initiation. Once neoplastic lesions are established, it appears that adaptive changes occur that now result in positive roles for autophagy in malignant progression and in subsequent tumor maintenance. Remarkably, constitutive activation of autophagy is critical for continued growth of some tumors, serving to both reduce oxidative stress and provide key intermediates to sustain cell metabolism. Autophagy is also induced in response to cancer therapies where it can function as a survival mechanism that limits drug efficacy. These findings have inspired significant interest in applying anti-autophagy therapies as an entirely new approach to cancer treatment. It is now apparent that aberrant control of autophagy is among the key hallmarks of cancer. While much needs to be learned about the regulation and context-dependent biological functions of autophagy, it seems clear that modulation of this process will be an attractive avenue for future cancer therapeutic approaches.

PMID:
21979913
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC3197199
Free PMC Article

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