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

Editorial: Autophagy and Ageing: Ideas, Methods, Molecules.
Proikas-Cezanne T, Ktistakis NT

Ever since it was first discussed in evolutionary terms by Haldane (1941), Medawar (1952), and Williams (1957), [reviewed in Partridge and Gems (2006)] aging has become a focus of much current research interest, especially following discoveries pointing to molecular, genetic, and biochemical hallmarks that control its progression and severity (López-Otín et al., 2013). Amongst the many cellular processes that provide physiological connections to the aging process, autophagy is perhaps one of the most compelling (Rubinsztein et al., 2011; Nakamura and Yoshimori, 2018).

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

DOI: 10.3389/fcell.2020.00141

PMID: 32185175

Ultrastructural insights into pathogen clearance by autophagy.
Kishi-Itakura C, Ktistakis NT, Buss F

Autophagy defends cells against proliferation of bacteria such as Salmonella in the cytosol. After escape from a damaged Salmonella-containing vacuole (SCV) exposing luminal glycans that bind to Galectin-8, the host cell ubiquitination machinery deposits a dense layer of ubiquitin around the cytosolic bacteria. The nature and spatial distribution of this ubiquitin coat in relation to other autophagy-related membranes are unknown. Using Transmission Electron Microscopy we determined the exact localisation of ubiquitin, the ruptured SCV membrane and phagophores around cytosolic Salmonella. Ubiquitin was not predominantly present on the Salmonella surface, but enriched on the fragmented SCV. Cytosolic bacteria without SCVs were less efficiently targeted by phagophores. Single bacteria were contained in single phagophores but multiple bacteria could be within large autophagic vacuoles reaching 30 μm in circumference. These large phagophores followed the contour of the engulfed bacteria, they were frequently in close association with endoplasmic reticulum membranes and, within them, remnants of the SCV were seen associated with each engulfed particle. Our data suggest that the Salmonella SCV has a major role in the formation of autophagic phagophores and highlight evolutionary conserved parallel mechanisms between xenophagy and mitophagy with the fragmented SCV and the damaged outer mitochondrial membrane serving similar functions. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

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Traffic (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1, 1, 21 Feb 2020

DOI: 10.1111/tra.12723

PMID: 32086870

Temporal inhibition of autophagy reveals segmental reversal of ageing with increased cancer risk.
Cassidy LD, Young ARJ, Young CNJ, Soilleux EJ, Fielder E, Weigand BM, Lagnado A, Brais R, Ktistakis NT, Wiggins KA, Pyrillou K, Clarke MCH, Jurk D, Passos JF, Narita M

Autophagy is an important cellular degradation pathway with a central role in metabolism as well as basic quality control, two processes inextricably linked to ageing. A decrease in autophagy is associated with increasing age, yet it is unknown if this is causal in the ageing process, and whether autophagy restoration can counteract these ageing effects. Here we demonstrate that systemic autophagy inhibition induces the premature acquisition of age-associated phenotypes and pathologies in mammals. Remarkably, autophagy restoration provides a near complete recovery of morbidity and a significant extension of lifespan; however, at the molecular level this rescue appears incomplete. Importantly autophagy-restored mice still succumb earlier due to an increase in spontaneous tumour formation. Thus, our data suggest that chronic autophagy inhibition confers an irreversible increase in cancer risk and uncovers a biphasic role of autophagy in cancer development being both tumour suppressive and oncogenic, sequentially.

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Nature communications, 11, 1, 16 Jan 2020

DOI: 10.1038/s41467-019-14187-x

PMID: 31949142