Non-immune cells can eliminate invading bacteria effectively by enveloping them with autophagic machinery, Japanese researchers report in the November 5 Science.

"We found a new function of autophagy," coauthor Tamotsu Yoshimori at the National Institute of Genetics in Mishima-Shizuoka, Japan, told The Scientist.

In a healthy, uninfected cell, autophagy breaks down damaged, atrophied, or excess cell parts to keep the cell functioning properly. Research groups worldwide over the last decade have observed autophagosome-like compartments that contained bacteria such as Rickettsia conorii and Listeria monocytogenes, hinting autophagy could act as an innate host defensive pathway. Still, the significance of this encapsulation remained unclear.

"We could not say whether this compartmentalization was a mechanism induced by the bacteria or a reaction of the host cell towards the bug," Jean-Pierre Gorvel of the Centre d'Immunologie de Marseille-Luminy in France, who was not involved in Science study, told The Scientist....

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