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Autophagy. 2012 Jan;8(1):1-3. doi: 10.4161/auto.8.1.16618. Epub 2012 Jan 1.

The end of autophagic cell death?


In the mammalian system, cell death is often preceded or accompanied by autophagic vacuolization, a finding that initially led to the widespread belief that so-called "autophagic cell death" would be mediated by autophagy. Thanks to the availability of genetic tools to disable the autophagic machinery, it has become clear over recent years that autophagy usually constitutes a futile attempt of dying cells to adapt to lethal stress rather than a mechanism to execute a cell death program. Recently, we systematically addressed the question as to whether established or prospective anticancer agents may induce "autophagic cell death". Although a considerable portion among the 1,400 compounds that we evaluated induced autophagic puncta and actually increased autophagic flux, not a single one turned out to kill tumor cells through the induction of autophagy. Thus, knockdown of essential autophagy genes (such as ATG5 and ATG7) failed to prevent and rather accelerated chemotherapy-induced cell death, in spite of the fact that this manipulation efficiently inhibits autophagosome formation. Herein, we review these finding and--polemically--raise doubts as to the very existence of "autophagic cell death".

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