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J Mol Med (Berl). 2006 Mar;84(3):194-202. Epub 2006 Jan 28.

Autophagy in innate and adaptive immunity against intracellular pathogens.

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Laboratory of Viral Immunobiology, and Christopher H. Browne Center for Immunology and Immune Diseases, The Rockefeller University, New York, NY 10021, USA.


Autophagy delivers cytoplasmic constituents for lysosomal degradation. Recent studies have demonstrated that this pathway mediates resistance to pathogens and is targeted for immune evasion by viruses and bacteria. Lysosomal degradation products, including pathogenic determinants, are then surveyed by the adaptive immune system to elicit antigen-specific T cell responses. CD4(+) T helper cells have been shown to recognize nuclear and cytosolic antigens via presentation by major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II molecules after autophagy. Furthermore, some sources of natural MHC class II ligands display characteristics of autophagy substrates, and autophagosomes fuse with late endosomes, in which MHC class II loading is thought to occur. Although MHC class II antigen processing via autophagy has so far mainly been described for professional antigen-presenting cells like B cells, macrophages, and dendritic cells, it might be even more important for cells with less endocytic potential, like epithelial cells, when these express MHC class II at sites of inflammation. Therefore, autophagy might contribute to immune surveillance of intracellular pathogens via MHC class II presentation of intracellular pathogen-derived peptides.

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