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Int J Biol Sci 2016; 12(11):1332-1340. doi:10.7150/ijbs.16245


The Evolving Functions of Autophagy in Ocular Health: A Double-edged Sword

Peiwei Chai*, Hongyan Ni*, He Zhang✉#, Xianqun Fan✉#

Department of Ophthalmology, Ninth People's Hospital, Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine, Shanghai, P.R. China.
*These authors contributed equally to this paper.
#These authors are co-corresponding authors of this paper.


Autophagy plays an adaptive role in cell survival, development, differentiation and intracellular homeostasis. Autophagy is recognized as a 'self-cannibalizing' process that is active during stresses such as starvation, chemotherapy, infection, ageing, and oxygen shortage to protect organisms from various irritants and to regenerate materials and energy. However, autophagy can also lead to a form of programmed cell death distinct from apoptosis.

Components of the autophagic pathway are constitutively expressed at a high level in the eye, including in the cornea, lens, retina, and orbit. In addition, the activation of autophagy is directly linked to the development of eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration (ARMD), cataracts, diabetic retinopathy (DR), glaucoma, photoreceptor degeneration, ocular tumours, ocular infections and thyroid-associated ophthalmopathy (TAO). A high level of autophagy defends against external stress; however, excessive autophagy can result in deterioration, as observed in ocular diseases such as ARMD and DR.

This review summarizes recent developments elucidating the relationship between autophagy and ocular diseases and the potential roles of autophagy in the pathogenesis and treatment of these diseases.

Keywords: Autophagy, age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, thyroid-associated ophthalmopathy, ocular tumours.

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY-NC) License. See for full terms and conditions.
How to cite this article:
Chai P, Ni H, Zhang H, Fan X. The Evolving Functions of Autophagy in Ocular Health: A Double-edged Sword. Int J Biol Sci 2016; 12(11):1332-1340. doi:10.7150/ijbs.16245. Available from