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

Mitochondrial Oxidative Damage Underlies Regulatory T Cell Defects in Autoimmunity.
Alissafi T, Kalafati L, Lazari M, Filia A, Kloukina I, Manifava M, Lim JH, Alexaki VI, Ktistakis NT, Doskas T, Garinis GA, Chavakis T, Boumpas DT, Verginis P

Regulatory T cells (Tregs) are vital for the maintenance of immune homeostasis, while their dysfunction constitutes a cardinal feature of autoimmunity. Under steady-state conditions, mitochondrial metabolism is critical for Treg function; however, the metabolic adaptations of Tregs during autoimmunity are ill-defined. Herein, we report that elevated mitochondrial oxidative stress and a robust DNA damage response (DDR) associated with cell death occur in Tregs in individuals with autoimmunity. In an experimental autoimmune encephalitis (EAE) mouse model of autoimmunity, we found a Treg dysfunction recapitulating the features of autoimmune Tregs with a prominent mtROS signature. Scavenging of mtROS in Tregs of EAE mice reversed the DDR and prevented Treg death, while attenuating the Th1 and Th17 autoimmune responses. These findings highlight an unrecognized role of mitochondrial oxidative stress in defining Treg fate during autoimmunity, which may facilitate the design of novel immunotherapies for diseases with disturbed immune tolerance.

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Cell metabolism, 1, 1, 22 Jul 2020

PMID: 32738205

ATG13 dynamics in nonselective autophagy and mitophagy: insights from live imaging studies and mathematical modeling.
Dalle Pezze P, Karanasios E, Kandia V, Manifava M, Walker SA, Gambardella Le Novère N, Ktistakis NT

During macroautophagy/autophagy, the ULK complex nucleates autophagic precursors, which give rise to autophagosomes. We analyzed, by live imaging and mathematical modeling, the translocation of ATG13 (part of the ULK complex) to the autophagic puncta in starvation-induced autophagy and ivermectin-induced mitophagy. In nonselective autophagy, the intensity and duration of ATG13 translocation approximated a normal distribution, whereas wortmannin reduced this effect and shifted to a log-normal distribution. During mitophagy, multiple translocations of ATG13 with increasing time between peaks were observed. We hypothesized that these multiple translocations arise because the engulfment of mitochondrial fragments required successive nucleation of phagophores on the same target, and a mathematical model based on this idea reproduced the oscillatory behavior. Significantly, model and experimental data were also in agreement that the number of ATG13 translocations is directly proportional to the diameter of the targeted mitochondrial fragments. Thus, our data provide novel insights into the early dynamics of selective and nonselective autophagy. ATG: autophagy related 13; CFP: cyan fluorescent protein; dsRED: red fluorescent protein; GABARAP: GABA type A receptor-associated protein; GFP: green fluorescent protein; IVM: ivermectin; MAP1LC3/LC3: microtubule-associated protein 1 light chain 3; MTORC1: mechanistic target of rapamycin kinase complex 1; PIK3C3/VPS34: phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase catalytic subunit type 3; PtdIns3P: PtdIns-3-phosphate; ULK: unc-51 like autophagy activating kinase.

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Autophagy, 1, 1, 22 Apr 2020

DOI: 10.1080/15548627.2020.1749401

PMID: 32320309

Mammalian Mitophagosome Formation: A Focus on the Early Signals and Steps.
Zachari M, Ktistakis NT

Mitophagy, a conserved intracellular process by which mitochondria are eliminated via the autophagic machinery, is a quality control mechanism which facilitates maintenance of a functional mitochondrial network and cell homeostasis, making it a key process in development and longevity. Mitophagy has been linked to multiple human disorders, especially neurodegenerative diseases where the long-lived neurons are relying on clearance of old/damaged mitochondria to survive. During the past decade, the availability of novel tools to study mitophagy both and has significantly advanced our understanding of the molecular mechanisms governing this fundamental process in normal physiology and in various disease models. We here give an overview of the known mitophagy pathways and how they are induced, with a particular emphasis on the early events governing mitophagosome formation.

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Frontiers in cell and developmental biology, 8, 1, 2020

DOI: 10.3389/fcell.2020.00171

PMID: 32258042