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Autophagy. 2011 May;7(5):490-500. Epub 2011 May 1.

Identification of autophagy genes participating in zinc-induced necrotic cell death in Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

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Department of Microbiology, Molecular Biology, and Biochemistry, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID, USA.


Eukaryotes use a common set of genes to perform two mechanistically similar autophagic processes. Bulk autophagy harvests proteins nonselectively and reuses their constitutents when nutrients are scarce. In contrast, different forms of selective autophagy target protein aggregates or damaged organelles that threaten to interfere with growth. Yeast uses one form of selective autophagy, called cytoplasm-to-vacuole targeting (Cvt), to engulf two vacuolar enzymes in Cvt vesicles ("CVT-somes") within which they are transported to vacuoles for maturation. While both are dispensable normally, bulk and selective autophagy help sustain life under stressful conditions. Consistent with this view, knocking out several genes participating in Cvt and specialized autophagic pathways heightened the sensitivity of Saccharomyces cerevisiae to inhibitory levels of Zn(2+). The loss of other autophagic genes, and genes responsible for apoptotic cell death, had no such effect. Unexpectedly, the loss of members of a third set of autophagy genes heightened cellular resistance to zinc as if they encoded proteins that actively contributed to zinc-induced cell death. Further studies showed that both sensitive and resistant strains accumulated similar amounts of H2O2 during zinc treatments, but that more sensitive strains showed signs of necrosis sooner. Although zinc lethality depended on autophagic proteins, studies with several reporter genes failed to reveal increased autophagic activity. In fact, microscopy analysis indicated that Zn(2+) partially inhibited fusion of Cvt vesicles with vacuoles. Further studies into how the loss of autophagic processes suppressed necrosis in yeast might reveal whether a similar process could occur in plants and animals.

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