Assessing mammalian autophagy
Authors listSharon Tooze Hannah C Dooley Harold BJ Jefferies Justin Joachim Delphine Judith Christopher A Lamb Minoo Razi Martina Wirth
Autophagy (self-eating) is a highly conserved, vesicular pathway that cells use to eat pieces of themselves, including damaged organelles, protein aggregates or invading pathogens, for self-preservation and survival (Choi et al., N Engl J Med 368:651-662, 2013; Lamb et al., Nat Rev Mol Cell Biol 14:759-774, 2013). Autophagy can be delineated into three major vesicular compartments (the phagophore, autophagosome, autolysosome, see Fig. 1). The initial stages of the pathway involve the formation of phagophores (also called isolation membranes), which are open, cup-shaped membranes that expand and sequester the cytosolic components, including organelles and aggregated proteins or intracellular pathogens. Closure of the phagophore creates an autophagosome, which is a double-membrane vesicle. Fusion of the autophagosome with the lysosome, to form an autolysosome, delivers the content of the autophagosome into the lysosomal lumen and allows degradation to occur.Autophagy is a dynamic process that is initiated within 15 min of amino acid starvation in cell culture systems (Köchl et al., Traffic 7:129-145, 2006) and is likely to occur as rapidly in vivo (Mizushima et al., J Cell Biol 152:657-668, 2001). To initiate studies on the formation of the autophagosomes, and trafficking to and from the autophagic pathway, an ideal starting approach is to do a morphological analysis in fixed cells. Additional validation of the morphological data can be obtained using simple Western blot analysis. Here we describe the most commonly used morphological technique to study autophagy, in particular, using the most reliable marker, microtubule-associated protein 1A/1B-light chain 3 (LC3). In addition, we describe a second immunofluorescence assay to determine if autophagy is being induced, using an antibody to WD repeat domain, phosphoinositide interacting 2 (WIPI2), an effector of the phosphatidylinositol (3)-phosphate (PI3P) produced during autophagosome formation.