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Autophagy. 2009 Jul;5(5):625-35. Epub 2009 Jul 10.

Identification of Atg5-dependent transcriptional changes and increases in mitochondrial mass in Atg5-deficient T lymphocytes.

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Department of Pathology and Immunology, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri 63110, USA.


Autophagy is implicated in many functions of mammalian cells such as organelle recycling, survival and differentiation, and is essential for the maintenance of T and B lymphocytes. Here, we demonstrate that autophagy is a constitutive process during T cell development. Deletion of the essential autophagy genes Atg5 or Atg7 in T cells resulted in decreased thymocyte and peripheral T cell numbers, and Atg5-deficient T cells had a decrease in cell survival. We employed functional-genetic and integrative computational analyses to elucidate specific functions of the autophagic process in developing T-lineage lymphocytes. Our whole-genome transcriptional profiling identified a set of 699 genes differentially expressed in Atg5-deficient and Atg5-sufficient thymocytes (Atg5-dependent gene set). Strikingly, the Atg5-dependent gene set was dramatically enriched in genes encoding proteins associated with the mitochondrion. In support of a role for autophagy in mitochondrial maintenance in T lineage cells, the deletion of Atg5 led to increased mitochondrial mass in peripheral T cells. We also observed a correlation between mitochondrial mass and Annexin-V staining in peripheral T cells. We propose that autophagy is critical for mitochondrial maintenance and T cell survival. We speculate that, similar to its role in yeast or mammalian liver cells, autophagy is required in T cells for the removal of damaged or aging mitochondria and that this contributes to the cell death of autophagy-deficient T cells.

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