Why is Autophagy Important in Human Diseases?

*The following article is a summary of the findings from a scientific article titled "Why is Autophagy Important in Human Diseases?" Further information and details on this study are located in the links below.*


Did you know that your body has its very own recycling system at a cellular level? Did you also know that the recycling system may be crucial when it comes to understanding and preventing diseases? This amazing system that works around the clock to make sure our bodies are operating at a more efficient level is called autophagy. Macroautophagy or autophagy happens when a certain protein light chain conjugation is introduced to an isolated membrane that then allows them to envelop different organelles and remove the damaged ones. Taking from the damaged components different nutrients for the body to use as well as recycling some of the protein light chain that was used.

Now that we know how autophagy happens, it’s important to discuss what happens when autophagy does or does not take place in the body. Autophagy is vital for cellular homeostasis and the survival of cells. If interfered with it can lead to not only abnormal cell growth but cell death which in turn leads to different diseases. Autophagy only focuses on the breakdown of long-lived proteins in the cells and was thought to be “non-selective” when it came to breaking down and recycling different components. However, more studies have shown that autophagy can and will target specific organelles such as the mitochondria, endoplasmic reticulum, and various microorganisms.

As mentioned earlier, the failure for autophagy to take place can result in cell death, sometimes dependent upon what kickstarted autophagy, autophagy itself might lead to cellular death. Inducing cellular death is thought to be with overall cell survival or energy maintenance. More times than not autophagy stops or delays the occurrence of cell death and promotes survival of the cell.

Having focused on the how, and the what of autophagy, it’s time to explore the influence autophagy may have on the physiology of the human body and diseases that may occur. On top of recycling damaged organelles autophagy is also involved with the removal of viruses and bacteria from the cells. Recent studies suggest that autophagy may be advantageous in removing harmful bacteria like streptococcus, mycobacterium tuberculosis, mycobacteria and herpes simplex virus. Studies on autophagy are growing by the year and many are connected to several different diseases such as diabetes mellitus, neurodegenerative disorders, infection diseases, cancer and more.

The continuation of research into autophagy seems endless and there is absolutely a call for more. Autophagy is responsible for many crucial things that happen in our body. From cleansing its cells to extinguishing different hurtful bacteria. The importance of stopping cell death or the growth of abnormal cells which in turn leads to different diseases may be autophagy’s most important role.



    [1] Jing, K., Lim, K. Why is autophagy important in human diseases?. Exp Mol Med 44, 69–72 (2012). https://doi.org/10.3858/emm.2012.44.2.028 

    • Don Moxley - Director of Applied Science

      Don Moxley is the Director of Applied Science at Longevity Labs. Moxley draws upon his career as an athlete, a sports scientist, and an instructor to lead and educate on the science of autophagy and longevity.