In response to nutrient deficiency, eukaryotic cells activate macroautophagy, a degradative process in which proteins, organelles and cytoplasm are engulfed within unique vesicles called autophagosomes. Fusion of these vesicles with the endolysosomal compartment leads to breakdown of the sequestered material into amino acids and other simple molecules, which can be used as nutrient sources during periods of starvation. This process is driven by a group of autophagy-related (Atg) proteins, and is suppressed by TOR (target of rapamycin) signalling under favourable conditions. Several distinct kinase complexes have been implicated in autophagic signalling downstream of TOR. In yeast, TOR is known to control autophagosome formation in part through a multiprotein complex containing the serine/threonine protein kinase Atg1. Recent work in Drosophila and mammalian systems suggests that this complex and its regulation by TOR are conserved in higher eukaryotes, and that Atg1 has accrued additional functions including feedback regulation of TOR itself. TOR and Atg1 also control the activity of a second kinase complex containing Atg6/Beclin 1, Vps (vacuolar protein sorting) 15 and the class III PI3K (phosphoinositide 3-kinase) Vps34. During autophagy induction, Vps34 activity is mobilized from an early endosomal compartment to nascent autophagic membranes, in a TOR- and Atg1-responsive manner. Finally, the well-known TOR substrate S6K (p70 ribosomal protein S6 kinase) has been shown to play a positive role in autophagy, which may serve to limit levels of autophagy under conditions of continuously low TOR activity. Further insight into these TOR-dependent control mechanisms may support development of autophagy-based therapies for a number of pathological conditions.
- Autophagy-related gene 1/Unc51-like kinase 1 (Atg1/Ulk1)
- Cell growth
- Target of rapamycin (TOR)
- Vacuolar protein sorting 34 (Vps34)