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BioMed Research International
Volume 2015, Article ID 934207, 14 pages
Review Article

Elaborating the Role of Natural Products-Induced Autophagy in Cancer Treatment: Achievements and Artifacts in the State of the Art

Ning Wang1,2 and Yibin Feng1,2

1School of Chinese Medicine, The University of Hong Kong, 10 Sassoon Road, Pokfulam, Hong Kong
2The University of Hong Kong-Shenzhen Institute of Research and Innovation (HKU-SIRI), Shenzhen 518057, China

Received 13 July 2014; Revised 29 September 2014; Accepted 2 October 2014

Academic Editor: Beata Pająk

Copyright © 2015 Ning Wang and Yibin Feng. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Autophagy is a homeostatic process that is highly conserved across different types of mammalian cells. Autophagy is able to relieve tumor cell from nutrient and oxidative stress during the rapid expansion of cancer. Excessive and sustained autophagy may lead to cell death and tumor shrinkage. It was shown in literature that many anticancer natural compounds and extracts could initiate autophagy in tumor cells. As summarized in this review, the tumor suppressive action of natural products-induced autophagy may lead to cell senescence, provoke apoptosis-independent cell death, and complement apoptotic cell death by robust or target-specific mechanisms. In some cases, natural products-induced autophagy could protect tumor cells from apoptotic death. Technical variations in detecting autophagy affect data quality, and study focus should be made on elaborating the role of autophagy in deciding cell fate. In vivo study monitoring of autophagy in cancer treatment is expected to be the future direction. The clinical-relevant action of autophagy-inducing natural products should be highlighted in future study. As natural products are an important resource in discovery of lead compound of anticancer drug, study on the role of autophagy in tumor suppressive effect of natural products continues to be necessary and emerging.