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.

A Milner Institute enabled project in collaboration with ALBORADA Drug Discovery Institute, MRC Mitochondrial Biology Unit, Astex, Eisai and Eli Lilly and Company is just about to start in my lab. We are examining by siRNA, chemical inhibition and overexpression a limited set of genes implicated in autophagy to determine their role in neurodegeneration. The last stage of this work will use iPSC-derived neuronal cells that we have developed in my lab and originate either from healthy donors or from Alzheimer’s patients. Read more at:

Latest Publications

The dynamics of mitochondrial autophagy at the initiation stage.
Ktistakis NT

The pathway of mitochondrial-specific autophagy (mitophagy, defined here as the specific elimination of mitochondria following distinct mitochondrial injuries or developmental/metabolic alterations) is important in health and disease. This review will be focussed on the earliest steps of the pathway concerning the mechanisms and requirements for initiating autophagosome formation on a mitochondrial target. More specifically, and in view of the fact that we understand the basic mechanism of non-selective autophagy and are beginning to reshape this knowledge towards the pathways of selective autophagy, two aspects of mitophagy will be covered: (i) How does a machinery normally working in association with the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) to make an autophagosome can also do so at a site distinct from the ER such as on the surface of the targeted cargo? and (ii) how does the machinery deal with cargo of multiple sizes?

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Biochemical Society transactions, 1, 1, 19 Oct 2021

PMID: 34665253

Autophagy in major human diseases.
Klionsky DJ, Petroni G, Amaravadi RK, Baehrecke EH, Ballabio A, Boya P, Bravo-San Pedro JM, Cadwell K, Cecconi F, Choi AMK, Choi ME, Chu CT, Codogno P, Colombo MI, Cuervo AM, Deretic V, Dikic I, Elazar Z, Eskelinen EL, Fimia GM, Gewirtz DA, Green DR, Hansen M, Jäättelä M, Johansen T, Juhász G, Karantza V, Kraft C, Kroemer G, Ktistakis NT, Kumar S, Lopez-Otin C, Macleod KF, Madeo F, Martinez J, Meléndez A, Mizushima N, Münz C, Penninger JM, Perera RM, Piacentini M, Reggiori F, Rubinsztein DC, Ryan KM, Sadoshima J, Santambrogio L, Scorrano L, Simon HU, Simon AK, Simonsen A, Stolz A, Tavernarakis N, Tooze SA, Yoshimori T, Yuan J, Yue Z, Zhong Q, Galluzzi L, Pietrocola F

Autophagy is a core molecular pathway for the preservation of cellular and organismal homeostasis. Pharmacological and genetic interventions impairing autophagy responses promote or aggravate disease in a plethora of experimental models. Consistently, mutations in autophagy-related processes cause severe human pathologies. Here, we review and discuss preclinical data linking autophagy dysfunction to the pathogenesis of major human disorders including cancer as well as cardiovascular, neurodegenerative, metabolic, pulmonary, renal, infectious, musculoskeletal, and ocular disorders.

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The EMBO journal, 1, 1, 30 Aug 2021

DOI: 10.15252/embj.2021108863

PMID: 34459017

Inhibition of the SEC61 translocon by mycolactone induces a protective autophagic response controlled by EIF2S1-dependent translation that does not require ULK1 activity.
Hall BS, Dos Santos SJ, Hsieh LT, Manifava M, Ruf MT, Pluschke G, Ktistakis N, Simmonds RE

The exotoxin, mycolactone, is responsible for the immunosuppression and tissue necrosis that characterizes Buruli ulcer. Mycolactone inhibits SEC61-dependent co-translational translocation of proteins into the endoplasmic reticulum and the resultant cytosolic translation triggers degradation of mislocalized proteins by the ubiquitin-proteasome system. Inhibition of SEC61 by mycolactone also activates multiple EIF2S1/eIF2α kinases in the integrated stress response (ISR). Here we show mycolactone increased canonical markers of selective macroautophagy/autophagy LC3B-II, ubiquitin and SQSTM1/p62 in diverse disease-relevant primary cells and cell lines. Increased formation of puncta positive for the early autophagy markers WIPI2, RB1CC1/FIP200 and ATG16L1 indicates increased initiation of autophagy. The mycolactone response was SEC61A1-dependent and involved a pathway that required RB1CC1 but not ULK. Deletion of reduced cell survival in the presence of mycolactone, suggesting this response protects against the increased cytosolic protein burden caused by the toxin. However, reconstitution of baseline SQSTM1 expression in cells lacking all autophagy receptor proteins could not rescue viability. Translational regulation by EIF2S1 in the ISR plays a key role in the autophagic response to mycolactone. Mycolactone-dependent induction of SQSTM1 was reduced in cells while the p-EIF2S1 antagonist ISRIB reversed the upregulation of SQSTM1 and reduced RB1CC1, WIPI2 and LC3B puncta formation. Increased SQSTM1 staining could be seen in Buruli ulcer patient skin biopsy samples, reinforcing genetic data that suggests autophagy is relevant to disease pathology. Since selective autophagy and the ISR are both implicated in neurodegeneration, cancer and inflammation, the pathway uncovered here may have a broad relevance to human disease. ATF4: activating transcription factor 4; ATG: autophagy related; BAF: bafilomycin A; ATG16L1: autophagy related 16 like 1; BU: Buruli ulcer; CQ: chloroquine; EIF2AK3: eukaryotic translation initiation factor 2 alpha kinase 3; CALCOCO2: calcium binding and coiled-coil domain 2; DMSO: dimethyl sulfoxide; EIF2S1: eukaryotic translation initiation factor 2 subunit alpha; ER: endoplasmic reticulum; GFP: green fluorescent protein; HDMEC: human dermal microvascular endothelial cells; HFFF: human fetal foreskin fibroblasts; ISR: integrated stress response; ISRIB: integrated stress response inhibitor; MAP1LC3B/LC3B: microtubule associated protein 1 light chain 3 beta; MEF: mouse embryonic fibroblast; Myco: mycolactone; NBR1: NBR1 autophagy cargo receptor; NFE2L2: nuclear factor, erythroid 2 like 2; OPTN: optineurin; PFA: paraformaldehyde; PtdIns3P: phosphatidylinositol-3-phosphate; RB1CC1: RB1-inducible coiled coil 1; SQSTM1: sequestosome 1; TAX1BP1: Tax1 binding protein 1; ULK: unc-51 like autophagy activating kinase; UPS: ubiquitin-proteasome system; WIPI: WD repeat domain, phosphoinositide interacting; WT: wild type.

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Autophagy, 1, 1, 23 Aug 2021

PMID: 34424124