Macroautophagy regulates energy metabolism during effector T cell activation

Vanessa M. Hubbard, Rut Valdor, Bindi Patel, Rajat Singh, Ana Maria Cuervo, Fernando Macian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

205 Scopus citations


Macroautophagy is a highly conserved mechanism of lysosomal-mediated protein degradation that plays a key role in maintainingcellular homeostasis by recycling amino acids, reducing the amount of damaged proteins, and regulating protein levels in response to extracellular signals. We have found that macroautophagy is induced after effector T cell activation. Engagement of the TCR and CD28 results in enhanced microtubule-associated protein 1 light chain 3 (LC3) processing, increased numbers of LC3-containing vesicles, and increased LC3 flux, indicating active autophagosome formation and clearance. The autophagosomes formed in stimulated T cells actively fuse with lysosomes to degrade their cargo. Using a conditional KO mouse model where Atg7, a critical gene for macroautophagy, is specifically deleted in T cells, we have found that macroautophagy-deficient effector Th cells have defective IL-2 and IFN-γ production and reduced proliferation after stimulation, with no significant increase in apoptosis. We have found that ATP generation is decreased when autophagy is blocked, and defects in activation-induced cytokine production are restored when an exogenous energy source is added to macroautophagy-deficient T cells. Furthermore, we present evidence showing that the nature of the cargo inside autophagic vesicles found in resting T cells differs from the cargo of autophagosomes in activated T cells, where mitochondria and other organelles are selectively excluded. These results suggest that macroautophagy is an actively regulated process in T cells that can be induced in response to TCR engagement to accommodate the bioenergetic requirements of activated T cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7349-7357
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Immunology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 15 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


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