Mechanisms and context underlying the role of autophagy in cancer metastasis

Christopher M. Dower, Carson A. Wills, Steven M. Frisch, Hong Gang Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

144 Scopus citations


Macroautophagy/autophagy is a fundamental cellular degradation mechanism that maintains cell homeostasis, regulates cell signaling, and promotes cell survival. Its role in promoting tumor cell survival in stress conditions is well characterized, and makes autophagy an attractive target for cancer therapy. Emerging research indicates that autophagy also influences cancer metastasis, which is the primary cause of cancer-associated mortality. However, data demonstrate that the regulatory role of autophagy in metastasis is multifaceted, and includes both metastasis-suppressing and -promoting functions. The metastasis-suppressing functions of autophagy, in particular, have important implications for autophagy-based treatments, as inhibition of autophagy may increase the risk of metastasis. In this review, we discuss the mechanisms and context underlying the role of autophagy in metastasis, which include autophagy-mediated regulation of focal adhesion dynamics, integrin signaling and trafficking, Rho GTPase-mediated cytoskeleton remodeling, anoikis resistance, extracellular matrix remodeling, epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition signaling, and tumor-stromal cell interactions. Through this, we aim to clarify the context-dependent nature of autophagy-mediated metastasis and provide direction for further research investigating the role of autophagy in cancer metastasis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1110-1128
Number of pages19
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 3 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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