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What is Autophagy?

Autophagy Definition: Autophagy (or autophagocytosis) is the cell's normal, controlled mechanism for removing unwanted or defective components. It is derived from the Ancient Greek autóphagos, which means "self-devouring," and kytos, which means "hollow." It enables the degradation and recycling of cellular components in a controlled manner.

Autophagy Meaning: Upon being asked about autophagy meaning we can say that Autophagy (also known as autophagocytosis) is a catabolic process in which cells destroy damaged and unwanted cellular components. The action of lysosomes drives this mechanism, which aids survival during starvation by allowing the cellular energy level to be preserved.

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Since the middle of the nineteenth century, the term "autophagy" has been in use. The term autophagy was coined in 1963 by Belgian biochemist Christian de Duve, based on his discovery of the functions of the lysosome. Researchers were able to deduce the mechanisms of autophagy thanks to the discovery of autophagy-related genes in yeast in the 1990s, which contributed to the award of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to Japanese researcher Yoshinori Ohsumi.

Autophagy is a cytoplasmic breakdown pathway that transports cytoplasmic components to the autophagy lysosome. Despite its simplicity, recent research has shown that autophagy has a wide range of physiological and pathological functions, some of which are complex. Sequestration, transport to lysosomes, degradation, and use of degradation products are all phases of autophagy, and each one has a distinctive role.

There are Five Different Types of Autophagy:

  1. Macroautophagy

The key mechanism is macroautophagy, which is mainly used to eliminate damaged cell organelles or unused proteins. The phagophore first engulfs the substance to be degraded, forming an autophagosome, a double membrane that surrounds the organelle to be destroyed. After that, the autophagosome passes through the cell's cytoplasm to a lysosome in mammals or vacuoles in yeast and plants, where the two organelles fuse. The contents of the autophagosome are degraded within the lysosome/vacuole by acidic lysosomal hydrolase.

  1. Microautophagy

Microautophagy, on the other hand, includes the lysosome directly engulfing cytoplasmic material. Invagination, or the inward folding of the lysosomal membrane, or cellular protrusion, causes this.

  1. Chaperone-Mediated Autophagy

CMA, or chaperone-mediated autophagy, is a complex and unique autophagy pathway that involves the identification of hsc70-containing complexes. This means that a protein must have the hsc70 complex's recognition site, allowing it to bind to the chaperone and form the CMA- substrate/chaperone complex. This complex then travels to a lysosomal membrane-bound protein, which recognises and binds to the CMA receptor. The substrate protein is unfolded and translocated across the lysosome membrane with the aid of the lysosomal hsc70 chaperone after it is recognised.

  1. Mitophagy

Mitophagy is autophagy's selective destruction of mitochondria. It occurs often in defective mitochondria as a result of damage or stress. Mitophagy encourages mitochondrial turnover and prevents the accumulation of dysfunctional mitochondria, which can lead to cell death. In yeast, it is mediated by Atg32, and in mammals, it is mediated by NIX and its regulator BNIP3. PINK1 and parkin proteins control mitophagy. Mitophagy does not only affect weakened mitochondria; it also affects healthy mitochondria.

  1. Lipophagy 

Lipophagy is the autophagic degradation of lipids, a feature that has been demonstrated in both animal and fungal cells. Lipophagy's role in plant cells, on the other hand, is unknown. Lipid droplets (LDs), spheric "organelles" with a centre of mostly triacylglycerols (TAGs) and a unilayer of phospholipids and membrane proteins, are the object of lipophagy. The major lipophagic process in animal cells is macroautophagy, which involves the phagophore engulfing LDs. Microplipophagy, on the other hand, is the key mechanism in fungal cells and is particularly well studied in the budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Lipophagy was first observed in mice and became widely known after that.

Autophagy Functions

  1. Nutrient Starvation - Autophagy is involved in a number of biological activities. One example is in yeasts, where food deprivation causes a high amount of autophagy. This enables the degradation of unnecessary proteins and the recycling of amino acids for the synthesis of proteins that are required for survival. Autophagy is initiated in higher eukaryotes in reaction to nutrition depletion, which occurs in newborn animals after cutting off the trans-placental food supply, as well as in nutrient-starved cultured cells and tissues.

  2. Xenophagy - Xenophagy is the autophagic destruction of pathogenic particles in microbiology. Innate immunity relies heavily on the cellular autophagic machinery. Intracellular pathogens, such as Mycobacterium TB (the tuberculosis-causing bacteria), are degraded by the same cellular machinery and regulatory systems that degrade host mitochondria. This provides, incidentally, more support for the endosymbiotic hypothesis. Although some bacteria can prevent phagosomes from maturing into degradative organelles called phagolysosomes, this process usually results in the demise of the invasive pathogen.

  3. Infection - The autophagosome is thought to extract vesicular stomatitis virus from the cytosol and translocate it to the endosomes, where it is detected by a pattern recognition receptor called toll-like receptor 7, which detects single-stranded RNA. Intracellular signalling cascades are activated once the toll-like receptor is activated, leading to the generation of interferon and other antiviral cytokines. To boost their own replication, certain viruses and bacteria sabotage the autophagic pathway.

  4. Repair Mechanism -Autophagy is regarded to be one of the key reasons for the accumulation of damaged cells and ageing since it degrades damaged organelles, cell membranes, and proteins. Autophagy and autophagy regulators are involved in the response to lysosomal injury and are generally guided by galectins like galectin-3 and galectin-8, which recruit receptors like TRIM16 and NDP52, as well as directly affect mTOR and AMPK activity, whereas mTOR and AMPK inhibit and stimulate autophagy, respectively.

  5. Programmed Cell Death - One of the methods of programmed cell death (PCD) is autophagosome formation, which is dependent on autophagy proteins. This type of cell death is most likely related to a morphologically defined process known as autophagic PCD.

Difference between Autophagy and Phagocytosis



Unwanted components inside the cell are engulfed by phagophores.

During phagocytosis, large foreign solid substances are taken up by the cell.

Phagophore in the cell initiates the process by fusing with unwanted components.

Plasma membrane forms phagosomes surrounding the foreign particle, which is to be engulfed by the cell.

Phaogpore is surrounded by two membranes of the lipid bilayer.

Phagosome is a single-membraned structure.

Found in almost all the cells in the body of a multicellular organism.

Mainly found in the immune system cells.

Digesting vesicle is autolysosome.

Digesting vesicle is phagolysosome.

Involved in the survival of the cell during starvation.

Involved in the cell defence from foreign substances.

Sometimes leads to apoptosis by destroying active organelles like mitochondria.

Does not leads to apoptosis.

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FAQs on Autophagy

1. What is Phagocytosis?

Ans: Phagocytosis is one of two endocytosis systems that allows a cell to take in foreign molecules. Large solid particles such as cell debris, old cells, microscopic mineral particles, dust, different colloids, and microorganisms are ingested by cells in multicellular organisms. Phagocytosis, which occurs in immune system cells, aids in the defence of the body by killing invading pathogens.

2. Does Autophagy Kill Viruses?

Ans: Autophagy, a mammalian catabolic system, regulates viral infections on numerous levels by destroying viruses, modulating inflammatory responses, and boosting antigen presentation. Viruses also use autophagy to evade the immune system, replicate, and escape from infected cells.

3. How Long Does One Need to Fast for Autophagy to Take Place?

Ans: Significant autophagy in humans may require two to four days of fasting, depending on the individual's metabolism. When glucose and insulin levels decrease significantly, autophagy is thought to commence. After 24 hours of fasting, animal studies have revealed indications of autophagy, which peaks at roughly 48 hours.

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