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Cell Death Dis. 2019 May 15;10(6):376. doi: 10.1038/s41419-019-1607-0.

Autophagy-induced senescence is regulated by p38α signaling.

Author information

1
Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona), The Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology, 08028, Barcelona, Spain.
2
Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biomedicine, University of Barcelona, Faculty of Biology, 08028, Barcelona, Spain.
3
CIBER de Diabetes y Enfermedades Metabólicas Asociadas (CIBERDEM), Instituto de Salud Carlos III, Barcelona, Spain.
4
Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona), The Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology, 08028, Barcelona, Spain. angel.nebreda@irbbarcelona.org.
5
ICREA, Pg. Lluís Companys 23, 08010, Barcelona, Spain. angel.nebreda@irbbarcelona.org.

Abstract

Apoptosis and senescence are two mutually exclusive cell fate programs that can be activated by stress. The factors that instruct cells to enter into senescence or apoptosis are not fully understood, but both programs can be regulated by the stress kinase p38α. Using an inducible system that specifically activates this pathway, we show that sustained p38α activation suffices to trigger massive autophagosome formation and to enhance the basal autophagic flux. This requires the concurrent effect of increased mitochondrial reactive oxygen species production and the phosphorylation of the ULK1 kinase on Ser-555 by p38α. Moreover, we demonstrate that macroautophagy induction by p38α signaling determines that cancer cells preferentially enter senescence instead of undergoing apoptosis. In agreement with these results, we present evidence that the induction of autophagy by p38α protects cancer cells from chemotherapy-induced apoptosis by promoting senescence. Our results identify a new mechanism of p38α-regulated basal autophagy that controls the fate of cancer cells in response to stress.

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