Autophagy is an evolutionarily conserved degradation pathway which primary functions as a cell survival adaptive mechanism during stress conditions. Autophagy is a tumor suppressor process and induction of the autophagic machinery can cause cell demise in apoptosis-resistant cancer. Thus, this metabolic pathway can act either to prevent or to promote carcinogenesis, as well as to modulate the response to anticancer therapies, included drug-induced apoptosis. Conventional therapies exert their cytotoxic activity mainly by inducing apoptosis. Massive activation of the apoptotic program in a tissue can result in cell loss providing a selective advantage for growth to displastic cells and tumor cell subpopulations with high levels of malignancy. This suggests that the activation of autophagy can counteract malignancy. On the contrary, therapeutic intervention-induced apoptosis can eliminate cells with pro-mutational biochemical alterations at risk for initiation, initiated cells and cells of focal and advanced preneoplastic and neoplastic lesions. Thus, pharmacological inhibition of autophagy may enhance apoptosis. Autophagy and apoptosis share common stimuli and signalling pathways, so that the final fate, life or death, depends on the cell response. Recently, accumulating data fuel novel potential therapeutic interventions to modulate autophagy to be beneficial in cancer therapy. This review highlights current knowledges aimed at unraveling the molecular interplay between autophagy and cell death as well as the possible therapeutic exploitation in cancer.
Keywords: Autophagy, autophagic cell death, apoptosis, molecular swicth, oncogenesis, cancer therapy
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