Autophagy presents a topological challenge for the cell because it requires delivery of cytosolic material to the lumen of a membrane bound compartment, the lysosome. This is solved in an ingenious way by the formation of a double-membrane vesicle, the autophagosome, which captures cytosolic proteins and organelles during its transformation from a planar membrane disk into a sphere. In this way, cytosolic material first becomes lumenal and is then delivered for degradation to the lysosome. An unsolved set of questions in autophagy concerns the membrane of the autophagosome: what are the signals for its formation and what is its identity? Recently we provided some clues that may help answer these questions.1 By following the dynamics of several phosphatidylinositol 3-phosphate (PI3P)-binding proteins during amino acid starvation (and autophagy induction) we concluded that at least some autophagosomes are formed in a starvation-induced, PI3P-enriched membrane compartment dynamically connected to the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). We termed the membranes of this compartment omegasomes (from their omega-like shape). Our data suggest that PI3P is important for providing localization clues and perhaps for facilitating the fusion step at the final stage of autophagosome formation.
Addendum to: Axe EL, Walker SA, Manifava M, Chandra P, Roderick HL, Habermann A, et al. Autophagosome formation from membrane compartments enriched in phosphatidylinositol 3-phosphate and dynamically connected to the endoplasmic reticulum. J Cell Biol 2008; 182:685-701.Full Text Options