Autophagy is a highly conserved cytoplasmic degradation pathway that has an impact on many physiological and disease states, including immunity, tumorigenesis and neurodegeneration. Recent studies suggest that autophagy may also have important functions in embryogenesis and development. Many autophagy gene-knockout mice have embryonic lethality at different stages of development. Furthermore, interactions of autophagy with crucial developmental pathways such as Wnt, Shh (Sonic Hedgehog), TGFβ (transforming growth factor β) and FGF (fibroblast growth factor) have been reported. This suggests that autophagy may regulate cell fate decisions, such as differentiation and proliferation. In the present article, we discuss how mammalian autophagy may affect phenotypes associated with development.

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