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Acta Pharmacol Sin. 2011 Sep;32(9):1089-99. doi: 10.1038/aps.2011.50. Epub 2011 Aug 1.

Death and survival of neuronal and astrocytic cells in ischemic brain injury: a role of autophagy.

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Department of Pharmacology and Laboratory of Cerebrovascular Pharmacology, College of Pharmaceutical Science, Soochow University, Suzhou 215123, China.


Autophagy is a highly regulated cellular mechanism that leads to degradation of long-lived proteins and dysfunctional organelles. The process has been implicated in a variety of physiological and pathological conditions relevant to neurological diseases. Recent studies show the existence of autophagy in cerebral ischemia, but no consensus has yet been reached regarding the functions of autophagy in this condition. This article highlights the activation of autophagy during cerebral ischemia and/or reperfusion, especially in neurons and astrocytes, as well as the role of autophagy in neuronal or astrocytic cell death and survival. We propose that physiological levels of autophagy, presumably caused by mild to modest hypoxia or ischemia, appear to be protective. However, high levels of autophagy caused by severe hypoxia or ischemia and/or reperfusion may cause self-digestion and eventual neuronal and astrocytic cell death. We also discuss that oxidative and endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stresses in cerebral hypoxia or ischemia and/or reperfusion are potent stimuli of autophagy in neurons and astrocytes. In addition, we review the evidence suggesting a considerable overlap between autophagy on one hand, and apoptosis, necrosis and necroptosis on the other hand, in determining the outcomes and final morphology of damaged neurons and astrocytes.

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