Programmed cell death, together with proliferation and differentiation, is an essential process during the development of the nervous system. During neurogenesis, neurons and glia are generated in large numbers and, subsequently, they die in a process that depends on trophic signalling that refines the cytoarchitecture and connectivity of the nervous system. In addition, programmed cell death also affects proliferating neuroepithelial cells and recently differentiated neuroblasts. Autophagy is a lysosomal degradative pathway that allows the recycling of cell constituents, and seems to be able to play a dual role. It may serve to protect the cell by preventing the accumulation of deleterious products and organelles and supplying energy and amino acids. On the other hand, it has been considered a type of cell death. The role of autophagy during development is little characterized. The retina provides an excellent model system to study autophagy in the context of neural development, and to establish its relationship with proliferation, differentiation and cell death. In the present review, we summarize recent findings showing that autophagy contributes to the development of the nervous system by providing energy for cell corpse removal after physiological cell death, a process associated with retinal neurogenesis.

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