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J Cell Death. 2013 Aug 18;6:37-55. doi: 10.4137/JCD.S11034. eCollection 2013.

Crosstalk between apoptosis and autophagy: molecular mechanisms and therapeutic strategies in cancer.

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Cancer Institute, University of Mississippi Medical Center, Jackson, MS 39216, USA.
Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale, U 977, 67000 Strasbourg, France. ; Department of Operative Dentistry and Endodontics, Dental Faculty, University of Strasbourg, 67000 Strasbourg, France.


Both apoptosis and autophagy are highly conserved processes that besides their role in the maintenance of the organismal and cellular homeostasis serve as a main target of tumor therapeutics. Although their important roles in the modulation of tumor therapeutic strategies have been widely reported, the molecular actions of both apoptosis and autophagy are counteracted by cancer protective mechanisms. While apoptosis is a tightly regulated process that is implicated in the removal of damaged or unwanted cells, autophagy is a cellular catabolic pathway that is involved in lysosomal degradation and recycling of proteins and organelles, and thereby is considered an important survival/protective mechanism for cancer cells in response to metabolic stress or chemotherapy. Although the relationship between autophagy and cell death is very complicated and has not been characterized in detail, the molecular mechanisms that control this relationship are considered to be a relevant target for the development of a therapeutic strategy for tumor treatment. In this review, we focus on the molecular mechanisms of apoptosis, autophagy, and those of the crosstalk between apoptosis and autophagy in order to provide insight into the molecular mechanisms that may be essential for the balance between cell survival and death as well as their role as targets for the development of novel therapeutic approaches.


apoptosis; autophagy; cancer; crosstalk; therapy

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