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Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology
Volume 25, Issue 12, Pages 667-674

Autophagy: A Primer for the Gastroenterologist/Hepatologist

Christiane Sokollik, Michelle Ang, and Nicola L Jones

Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, The Hospital for Sick Children; Departments of Paediatrics and Physiology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Received 20 April 2011; Accepted 21 April 2011

Copyright © 2011 Hindawi Publishing Corporation. 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 conserved cellular pathway that maintains intracellular homeostasis by degrading proteins and cytosolic contents of eukaryotic cells. Autophagy clears misfolded and long-lived proteins, damaged organelles and invading microorganisms from cells, and provides nutrients and energy in response to exposure to cell stressors such as starvation. Defective autophagy has recently been linked to a diverse range of disease processes of relevance to gastroenterologists and hepatologists including Crohn’s disease, pancreatitis, hepatitis and cancer. The present article provides an overview of the autophagy pathway and discusses gastrointestinal disease processes in which alterations in autophagy have been implicated. The clinical significance of autophagy as a potential therapeutic option is also discussed.