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.

Latest Publications

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

CDK1, the Other 'Master Regulator' of Autophagy.
Odle RI, Florey O, Ktistakis NT, Cook SJ

Autophagy and cap-dependent mRNA translation are tightly regulated by the mechanistic target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1) signalling complex in response to nutrient availability. However, the regulation of these processes, and mTORC1 itself, is different during mitosis, and this has remained an area of significant controversy; for example, studies have argued that autophagy is either repressed or highly active during mitosis. Recent studies have shown that autophagy initiation is repressed, and cap-dependent mRNA translation is maintained during mitosis despite mTORC1 activity being repressed. This is achieved in large part by a switch from mTORC1- to cyclin-dependent kinase 1 (CDK1)-mediated regulation. Here, we review the history and recent advances and seek to present a unifying model to inform the future study of autophagy and mTORC1 during mitosis.

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Trends in cell biology, 1, 1, 30 Nov 2020

PMID: 33272830

Selective Autophagy of Mitochondria on a Ubiquitin-Endoplasmic-Reticulum Platform.
Zachari M, Gudmundsson SR, Li Z, Manifava M, Cugliandolo F, Shah R, Smith M, Stronge J, Karanasios E, Piunti C, Kishi-Itakura C, Vihinen H, Jokitalo E, Guan JL, Buss F, Smith AM, Walker SA, Eskelinen EL, Ktistakis NT

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Developmental cell, 55, 2, 26 Oct 2020

PMID: 33108756