Image of the Day: Cellular Breakdown
Image of the Day: Cellular Breakdown

Image of the Day: Cellular Breakdown

Autophagy may keep cell division in check to help protect against cancer-causing DNA damage.

Carolyn Wilke
Jan 31, 2019

ABOVE: The chromosomes on the left come from human cells with functioning autophagy and look normal. The chromosomes on the right are from cells where autophagy has been turned off and appear distorted.

Cells break down and recycle their components in a process called autophagy. Researchers now suggest that autophagy may play a role in thwarting cancer. They used healthy human cells and turned off some genes to let the cells replicate like crazy. More of these cells died through autophagy than by a cell death mechanism called apoptosis. When the scientists turned off autophagy in some of these cells, they found that their chromosomes became fused and distorted, like in some cancerous cells. 

Although autophagy was thought to help tumor cells by providing them material for growth, the new results suggest that the process may actually protect cells against unchecked growth and prevent cancer-causing DNA damage, according to the authors’ report in Nature on January 23. 

J. Nassour et al., “Autophagic cell death restricts chromosomal instability during replicative crisis,” Nature, doi:10.1038/s41586-019-0885-0, 2019.