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The role of autophagy in tumour development and cancer therapy

  • Mathias T. Rosenfeldt (a1) and Kevin M. Ryan (a1)


Autophagy is a catabolic membrane-trafficking process that leads to sequestration and degradation of intracellular material within lysosomes. It is executed at basal levels in every cell and promotes cellular homeostasis by regulating organelle and protein turnover. In response to various forms of cellular stress, however, the levels and cargoes of autophagy can be modulated. In nutrient-deprived states, for example, autophagy can be activated to degrade cargoes for cell-autonomous energy production to promote cell survival. In other contexts, in contrast, autophagy has been shown to contribute to cell death. Given these dual effects in regulating cell viability, it is no surprise that autophagy has implications in both the genesis and treatment of malignant disease. In this review, we provide a comprehensive appraisal of the way in which oncogenes and tumour suppressor genes regulate autophagy. In addition, we address the current evidence from human cancer and animal models that has aided our understanding of the role of autophagy in tumour progression. Finally, the potential for targeting autophagy therapeutically is discussed in light of the functions of autophagy at different stages of tumour progression and in normal tissues.

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Corresponding author

*Corresponding author: Kevin M. Ryan, Beatson Institute for Cancer Research, Garscube Estate, Switchback Road, Glasgow, G61 1BD, UK. Tel: +44 1413 303655; Fax: +44 1419 426521; E-mail:


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A newly established forum on autophagy, hosted by the journal Autophagy, provides useful information on reagents and antibodies used in autophagy research:

The US National Cancer Institute website might prove useful for clinicians to gain a rapid overview of research and clinical trials that are ongoing in the autophagy field in the USA:

Likewise, the Cancer Research UK website provides similar information about research projects on autophagy in the UK:

Further information about work in the authors’ laboratory and about The Beatson Institute for Cancer Research in general can be found at:

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