Roles of autophagy in lymphocytes: reflections and directions.
Recent studies have revealed that autophagy, a fundamental intracellular process, plays many different roles in lymphocyte development and function. Autophagy regulates naive T-lymphocyte homeostasis, specifically by regulating mitochondrial quality and turnover, and is necessary for the proliferation of mature T cells. Autophagy also acts as a cellular death pathway in lymphocytes, both upon prolonged cytokine withdrawal and during acute antigen-receptor stimulation if improperly regulated. Furthermore, during HIV infection, hyperinduction of autophagy leads to massive T-cell death in uninfected CD4(+) T cells, and is rescued by inhibiting autophagic initiation. Constitutively high levels of autophagy in thymic epithelial cells are necessary for optimal processing and presentation of endogenous antigens, and required for proper positive and negative selection of developing thymocytes. Autophagy also promotes the survival of B lymphocytes, as well as the development of early B-cell progenitors. In B cells, autophagy is an alternative death pathway, as antigen-receptor stimulation in the absence of costimulation induces a potent autophagic death. Thus, autophagy plays a complex role in lymphocytes and is regulated during their lifespan to ensure a healthy immune system.
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