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Autophagy is an intracellular degradation system that delivers cytoplasmic constituents to the lysosome. Autophagy plays a wide variety of physiological and pathophysiological roles. Different selective forms of autophagy have been identified and characterized, leading to the specific degradation of organelles or pathogens. These selective pathways include the autophagic degradation of mitochondria (mitophagy), peroxisomes (pexophagy), endoplasmic reticulum (reticulophagy or ER-phagy), ribosomes (ribophagy), protein aggregates (aggrephagy), lipid droplets (lipophagy), spermatozoon-inherited organelles following fertilization (allophagy), secretory granules within pancreatic cells (zymophagy), or intracellular pathogens (xenophagy).
Autophagy consists of several sequential steps--sequestration, transport to lysosomes, degradation, and utilization of degradation products--and each step may exert different function. Autophagy signal transduction are mainly regulated by autophagy-related genes/proteins, Atgs. ATGs have unveiled much of the machinery of autophagosome formation. Furthermore, different non-ATG proteins are involved in the regulation and process of autophagy, e.g., mTOR, AMPK, AKT, AMBRA1, BCL2, DFCP1, or VPS34.
Autophagy and its dysregulation have been implicated in different human diseases or processes, such as cancer, neurodegeneration, immunity, or aging. Plenty of drugs and natural products are involved in autophagy modulation, either inducing or inhibiting autophagy, through multiple signaling pathways. Small molecules that can regulate autophagy seem to have great potential to modulate the clinical course of neurodegenerative diseases or promote chemotherapeutic response in tumor models. Besides, several clinical drugs and compounds in diabetes are also found to involve regulation of autophagy.
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