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Cell Signal. 2013 Jan;25(1):50-65. doi: 10.1016/j.cellsig.2012.09.020. Epub 2012 Sep 19.

Starvation-induced autophagy is regulated by mitochondrial reactive oxygen species leading to AMPK activation.

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Manitoba Institute of Cell Biology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB, Canada.


Starvation is the most extensively studied condition that induces autophagy. Previous studies have demonstrated that starvation-induced autophagy is regulated by reactive oxygen species (ROS) such as superoxide (O(2)(·-)) but the source for ROS under starvation conditions and the downstream signaling pathways regulating autophagy are unclear. In this study, a cervical cancer HeLa cell line was generated that was deficient in mitochondrial electron transport chain (mETC) (HeLa ρ° cells). This resulted in endogenous levels of O(2)(·-) being significantly reduced and failed to be induced under starvation of glucose, L-glutamine, pyruvate, and serum (GP) or of amino acids and serum (AA) compared to wild type (wt) HeLa cells. In contrast, H(2)O(2) production failed to increase under GP starvation in both wild type and ρ° cells whereas it increased in wt cells but not in ρ° cells under AA starvation. GP or AA starvation induced autophagy was blocked in ρ° cells as determined by the amount of autophagosomes and autolysosomes. Autophagy is regulated by 5' adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase (AMPK) activation and AMPK is activated under starvation conditions. We demonstrate that ρ° cells and HeLa cells over expressing manganese-superoxide dismutase 2 (SOD2) cells fail to activate AMPK activation following starvation. This indicates that mitochondrial ROS might regulate AMPK activation. In addition, inhibiting AMPK activation either by siRNA or compound C resulted in reduced autophagy during starvation. Using a ROS scavenger NAC, AMPK activation is reduced under starvation condition and mTOR signaling is increased. Taken together, mitochondria-generated ROS induces autophagy mediated by the AMPK pathway under starvation conditions.

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