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The contribution of autophagy to lymphocyte survival and homeostasis


You-Wen He
Department of Immunology
Duke University Medical Center
Box 3010
Durham, NC 27710, USA
Tel.: +1 919 613 7870
Fax: +1 919 684 8982


Summary:  Over the life span of a T lymphocyte, from thymic development to death, it is subjected to a variety of stresses and stimuli. Upon receipt of each stress or stimulus, a potentially life-changing fate decision must be made, namely, whether to commit to a form of programmed cell death or to make the necessary adaptations to effectively deal with the changing environment. In our laboratory, we have identified several stresses that a T lymphocyte will encounter during a normal life span. Our studies have focused on how T cells utilize autophagy to get a grasp on the situation, or in cases in which survival is untenable, how T cells use autophagy to hasten their demise. This review focuses on the functions of T-cell autophagy in maintaining homeostasis, eliminating excess or dangerous levels of mitochondria, trimming levels of endoplasmic reticulum, and promoting a healthy metabolic level to allow cells to perform as productive components of the immune system. In addition, the use of autophagy signaling molecules to perform autophagy-independent tasks involved in the maintenance of immune homeostasis is discussed.