Nicholas Ktistakis

Research Summary

Autophagy (from the Greek self-eating) is a cellular mechanism which generates nutrients for the cell, primarily during times of starvation. Autophagy is also used to eliminate cell material that becomes damaged, leading to a periodic clean-up of the cell interior. Although it is a response by single cells, it is also very important for the health of an organism.

When autophagy is suppressed cells exhibit signs of oxidative damage because their dysfunctional mitochondria cannot be removed and continue to produce reactive oxygen species. Similarly, suppression of autophagy causes the build-up of mutant proteins that cause neurodegenerative disorders.

Autophagy is also critical for the neonatal period: animals which lack autophagy die soon after birth because they cannot generate nutrients during that time. Finally, autophagy is critical for the extension of lifespan in all organisms studied, and is therefore a significant factor that affects healthy ageing. The pathway of autophagy starts when a novel double membrane vesicle called an autophagosome is formed in the cell interior.

We have shown that one of the signals for formation of autophagosomes is the synthesis of a lipid called PI3P which leads to formation of omegasomes. These are membrane extensions of the endoplasmic reticulum, from which some autophagosomes emerge. We are studying exactly how this happens, both in terms of signals and of how the intermediate structures eventually lead to an autophagosome.

I was very happy to speak at the University of Michigan Protein Folding Diseases seminar series recently. This talk provides a nice summary of the current work in my lab:

Latest Publications

TFG binds LC3C to regulate ULK1 localization and autophagosome formation.
Carinci M, Testa B, Bordi M, Milletti G, Bonora M, Antonucci L, Ferraina C, Carro M, Kumar M, Ceglie D, Eck F, Nardacci R, le Guerroué F, Petrini S, Soriano ME, Caruana I, Doria V, Manifava M, Peron C, Lambrughi M, Tiranti V, Behrends C, Papaleo E, Pinton P, Giorgi C, Ktistakis NT, Locatelli F, Nazio F, Cecconi F

The early secretory pathway and autophagy are two essential and evolutionarily conserved endomembrane processes that are finely interlinked. Although growing evidence suggests that intracellular trafficking is important for autophagosome biogenesis, the molecular regulatory network involved is still not fully defined. In this study, we demonstrate a crucial effect of the COPII vesicle-related protein TFG (Trk-fused gene) on ULK1 puncta number and localization during autophagy induction. This, in turn, affects formation of the isolation membrane, as well as the correct dynamics of association between LC3B and early ATG proteins, leading to the proper formation of both omegasomes and autophagosomes. Consistently, fibroblasts derived from a hereditary spastic paraparesis (HSP) patient carrying mutated TFG (R106C) show defects in both autophagy and ULK1 puncta accumulation. In addition, we demonstrate that TFG activity in autophagy depends on its interaction with the ATG8 protein LC3C through a canonical LIR motif, thereby favouring LC3C-ULK1 binding. Altogether, our results uncover a link between TFG and autophagy and identify TFG as a molecular scaffold linking the early secretion pathway to autophagy.

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The EMBO journal, 1, 1, 01 May 2021

PMID: 33932238

Guidelines for the use and interpretation of assays for monitoring autophagy (4th edition).
Klionsky DJ, Ktistakis NT et al

In 2008, we published the first set of guidelines for standardizing research in autophagy. Since then, this topic has received increasing attention, and many scientists have entered the field. Our knowledge base and relevant new technologies have also been expanding. Thus, it is important to formulate on a regular basis updated guidelines for monitoring autophagy in different organisms. Despite numerous reviews, there continues to be confusion regarding acceptable methods to evaluate autophagy, especially in multicellular eukaryotes. Here, we present a set of guidelines for investigators to select and interpret methods to examine autophagy and related processes, and for reviewers to provide realistic and reasonable critiques of reports that are focused on these processes. These guidelines are not meant to be a dogmatic set of rules, because the appropriateness of any assay largely depends on the question being asked and the system being used. Moreover, no individual assay is perfect for every situation, calling for the use of multiple techniques to properly monitor autophagy in each experimental setting. Finally, several core components of the autophagy machinery have been implicated in distinct autophagic processes (canonical and noncanonical autophagy), implying that genetic approaches to block autophagy should rely on targeting two or more autophagy-related genes that ideally participate in distinct steps of the pathway. Along similar lines, because multiple proteins involved in autophagy also regulate other cellular pathways including apoptosis, not all of them can be used as a specific marker for autophagic responses. Here, we critically discuss current methods of assessing autophagy and the information they can, or cannot, provide. Our ultimate goal is to encourage intellectual and technical innovation in the field.

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Autophagy, 1, 1, 08 Feb 2021

PMID: 33634751

Sorting nexin 5 mediates virus-induced autophagy and immunity.
Dong X, Yang Y, Zou Z, Zhao Y, Ci B, Zhong L, Bhave M, Wang L, Kuo YC, Zang X, Zhong R, Aguilera ER, Richardson RB, Simonetti B, Schoggins JW, Pfeiffer JK, Yu L, Zhang X, Xie Y, Schmid SL, Xiao G, Gleeson PA, Ktistakis NT, Cullen PJ, Xavier RJ, Levine B

Autophagy, a process of degradation that occurs via the lysosomal pathway, has an essential role in multiple aspects of immunity, including immune system development, regulation of innate and adaptive immune and inflammatory responses, selective degradation of intracellular microorganisms, and host protection against infectious diseases. Autophagy is known to be induced by stimuli such as nutrient deprivation and suppression of mTOR, but little is known about how autophagosomal biogenesis is initiated in mammalian cells in response to viral infection. Here, using genome-wide short interfering RNA screens, we find that the endosomal protein sorting nexin 5 (SNX5) is essential for virus-induced, but not for basal, stress- or endosome-induced, autophagy. We show that SNX5 deletion increases cellular susceptibility to viral infection in vitro, and that Snx5 knockout in mice enhances lethality after infection with several human viruses. Mechanistically, SNX5 interacts with beclin 1 and ATG14-containing class III phosphatidylinositol-3-kinase (PI3KC3) complex 1 (PI3KC3-C1), increases the lipid kinase activity of purified PI3KC3-C1, and is required for endosomal generation of phosphatidylinositol-3-phosphate (PtdIns(3)P) and recruitment of the PtdIns(3)P-binding protein WIPI2 to virion-containing endosomes. These findings identify a context- and organelle-specific mechanism-SNX5-dependent PI3KC3-C1 activation at endosomes-for initiation of autophagy during viral infection.

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Nature, 1, 1, 16 Dec 2020

PMID: 33328639