Autophagy – A pathway for cellular renovation and rejuvenation

In order for our cells to stay healthy and functional, they must identify and dispose of damaged and harmful substances. Autophagy (from the Greek word for self-eating) is a process that cells employ to remove this material so that it can be replaced with new and functional parts.

During autophagy cellular substances become engulfed by vesicles, the autophagosomes. How autophagosomes form de novo around their cargos is fascinating yet still enigmatic. At the end of their biogenesis the vesicles fuse with cellular compartments called lysosomes which degrade the cargo. Autophagy was shown to target a variety of components including protein aggregates, organelles and even invading pathogens after they enter the cytoplasm. Not surprisingly, defects in autophagy have been associated with numerous diseases such as neurodegeneration, cancer and uncontrolled infections.

Past research has identified a plethora of factors that are required for autophagy. However, how these factors act together in order to couple the capturing of the cellular material destined for degradation with the formation of autophagosomes is not well understood.

Thus, the challenge now is to assign functions and mechanisms to these factors in order to gain a better understanding of how they work together to enable autophagy.

We are a multidisciplinary team that focuses on bottom-up approaches to understand how cells form autophagosomes. To this end, we employ biochemical reconstitution, cell biology, light and electron microscopy as well as structural biology approaches. Our long-term goal is to reconstitute autophagy in vitro and compare the outcome to its working in cells. When those two match up we will understand how cells dispose harmful material.

Prof. Sascha 
Dr.Bohr-Gasse 9, 1030 Vienna, Austria | Room: 5.113

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