Understanding the Mechanisms of Autophagy

Autophagy is very important to long term health, and shows up again and again as a pivotal part of the way in which various genetic manipulations and lifestyle choices can improve health and extend life. Here is a good article that delves into the mechanisms of autophagy and the present limits of scientific understanding: "Cells live longer than their internal components. To keep their cytoplasm clear of excess or damaged organelles, as well as invading pathogens, or to feed themselves in time of nutrient deprivation, cells degrade these unwanted or potentially harmful structures, and produce needed food and fuel, using a process they have honed over millions of years. Known as autophagy, this catabolic process involves the selection and the sequestration of the targeted structures into unique transport vesicles called autophagosomes, which then deliver the contents to lysosomes where they are degraded by lytic enzymes. ... Experimental evidence indicates that autophagosome biogenesis is probably a very complex process on several levels, including its regulation in response to different cellular and environmental cues, and the factors governing the choice of membrane sources. Is there any therapeutic value in determining the origin of the autophagosomal membranes? We think that elucidating this process could ultimately provide new drug targets for the treatment of diseases that can be alleviated or cured by the activation of autophagy, including specific muscular dystrophies, persistent infections, and neurodegenerative disorders (ataxias, Huntington's, and Parkinson's diseases). Understanding the sources and processes by which the autophagosome's lipid bilayers are delivered will undoubtedly reveal critical new proteins and articulate their functions, allowing researchers to pinpoint specific parts of the pathway."

Link: http://the-scientist.com/2012/02/01/the-enigmatic-membrane/


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