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J Biol Chem. 2003 May 16;278(20):17636-45. Epub 2003 Mar 7.

Macroautophagy is required for multicellular development of the social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum.

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Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, Columbia University, New York, New York 10032, USA.


Macroautophagy is a mechanism employed by eukaryotic cells to recycle non-essential cellular components during starvation, differentiation, and development. Two conjugation reactions related to ubiquitination are essential for autophagy: Apg12p conjugation to Apg5p, and Apg8p conjugation to the lipid phosphatidylethanolamine. These reactions require the action of the E1-like enzyme, Apg7p, and the E2-like enzymes, Apg3p and Apg10p. In Dictyostelium, development is induced by starvation, conditions under which autophagy is required for survival in yeast and plants. We have identified Dictyostelium homologues of 10 budding yeast autophagy genes. We have generated mutations in apg5 and apg7 that produce defects typically associated with an abrogation of autophagy. Mutants are not grossly affected in growth, but survival during nitrogen starvation is severely reduced. Starved mutant cells show little turnover of cellular constituents by electron microscopy, whereas wild-type cells show significant cytoplasmic degradation and reduced organelle number. Bulk protein degradation during starvation-induced development is reduced in the autophagy mutants. Development is aberrant; the autophagy mutants do not aggregate in plaques on bacterial lawns, but they do proceed further in development on nitrocellulose filters, forming defective fruiting bodies. The autophagy mutations are cell autonomous, because wild-type cells in a chimaera do not rescue development of the autophagy mutants. We have complemented the mutant phenotypes by expression of the cognate gene fused to green fluorescent protein. A green fluorescent protein fusion of the autophagosome marker Apg8 mislocalizes in the two autophagy mutants. We show that the Apg5-Apg12 conjugation system is conserved in Dictyostelium.

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