Lin, T-C, et al., Resetting Glutamine-Dependent Metabolism and Oxygen Consumption. Autophagy, 2012. 8(10): 1477-1493.
Autophagy is a catabolic process that functions in recycling and degrading cellular proteins, and is also induced as an adaptive response to the increased metabolic demand upon nutrient starvation. However, the prosurvival role of autophagy in response to metabolic stress due to deprivation of glutamine, the most abundant nutrient for mammalian cells, is not well understood. Here, we demonstrated that when extracellular glutamine was withdrawn, autophagy provided cells with sub-mM concentrations of glutamine, which played a critical role in fostering cell metabolism. Moreover, we uncovered a previously unknown connection between metabolic responses to ATG5 deficiency and glutamine deprivation, and revealed that WT and atg5 (-/-) MEFs utilized both common and distinct metabolic pathways over time during glutamine deprivation. Although the early response of WT MEFs to glutamine deficiency was similar in many respects to the baseline metabolism of atg5 (-/-) MEFs, there was a concomitant decrease in the levels of essential amino acids and branched chain amino acid catabolites in WT MEFs after 6 h of glutamine withdrawal that distinguished them from the atg5 (-/-) MEFs. Metabolomic profiling, oxygen consumption and pathway focused quantitative RT-PCR analyses revealed that autophagy and glutamine utilization were reciprocally regulated to couple metabolic and transcriptional reprogramming. These findings provide key insights into the critical prosurvival role of autophagy in maintaining mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation and cell growth during metabolic stress caused by glutamine deprivation.