Autophagic mechanism in anti-cancer immunity: Its pros and cons for cancer therapy

Ying Ying Li, Lynn G. Feun, Angkana Thongkum, Chiao Hui Tu, Shu Mei Chen, Medhi Wangpaichitr, Chunjing Wu, Macus T. Kuo, Niramol Savaraj

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


Autophagy, a self-eating machinery, has been reported as an adaptive response to maintain metabolic homeostasis when cancer cells encounter stress. It has been appreciated that autophagy acts as a double-edge sword to decide the fate of cancer cells upon stress factors, molecular subtypes, and microenvironmental conditions. Currently, the majority of evidence support that autophagy in cancer cells is a vital mechanism bringing on resistance to current and prospective treatments, yet whether autophagy affects the anticancer immune response remains unclear and controversial. Accumulated studies have demonstrated that triggering autophagy is able to facilitate anticancer immunity due to an increase in immunogenicity, whereas other studies suggested that autophagy is likely to disarm anticancer immunity mediated by cytotoxic T cells and nature killer (NK) cells. Hence, this contradiction needs to be elucidated. In this review, we discuss the role of autophagy in cancer cells per se and in cancer microenvironment as well as its dual regulatory roles in immune surveillance through modulating presentation of tumor antigens, development of immune cells, and expression of immune checkpoints. We further focus on emerging roles of autophagy induced by current treatments and its impact on anticancer immune response, and illustrate the pros and cons of utilizing autophagy in cancer immunotherapy based on preclinical references.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1297
JournalInternational Journal of Molecular Sciences
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 19 2017


  • Anticancer immunity
  • Autophagy
  • Autophagy antagonist
  • Immunogenicity
  • Tumor microenvironment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Catalysis
  • Molecular Biology
  • Spectroscopy
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry


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