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Autophagy defects are a risk factor for inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs), but the mechanism remains unknown. We show here that conditional whole-body deletion of Atg5 or Fip200, but not Atg7, is lethal due to loss of ileum stem cells and barrier function likely caused by different kinetics of autophagy loss, which was rescued by slow deletion. Specific autophagy loss in PDGFRα+ mesenchymal cells (PMCs) resulted in loss of Wnt signaling responsible for failed stem cell renewal. We also observed depletion of aspartate and nucleotides throughout the ileum. Our results illustrate that autophagy is required for PMC metabolism and survival necessary to sustain intestinal stem cells and mouse survival, and failure to maintain PMCs through autophagy contributes to IBD.


Autophagy defects are a risk factor for inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs) through unknown mechanisms. Whole-body conditional deletion of autophagy-related gene (AtgAtg7 in adult mice (Atg7Δ/Δ) causes tissue damage and death within 3 mo due to neurodegeneration without substantial effect on intestine. In contrast, we report here that whole-body conditional deletion of other essential Atg genes Atg5 or Fip200/Atg17 in adult mice (Atg5Δ/Δ or Fip200Δ/Δ) caused death within 5 d due to rapid autophagy inhibition, elimination of ileum stem cells, and loss of barrier function. Atg5Δ/Δ mice lost PDGFRα+ mesenchymal cells (PMCs) and Wnt signaling essential for stem cell renewal, which were partially rescued by exogenous Wnt. Matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization coupled to mass spectrometry imaging (MALDI-MSI) of Atg5Δ/Δ ileum revealed depletion of aspartate and nucleotides, consistent with metabolic insufficiency underlying PMC loss. The difference in the autophagy gene knockout phenotypes is likely due to distinct kinetics of autophagy loss, as deletion of Atg5 more gradually extended lifespan phenocopying deletion of Atg7 or Atg12. Thus, autophagy is required for PMC metabolism and ileum stem cell and mammalian survival. Failure to maintain PMCs through autophagy may therefore contribute to IBD.

Journal Link: PNAS

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