Autophagy is triggered when organisms sense radical environmental changes, including nutritional starvation. During autophagy, cytoplasmic components, including organelles, are enclosed within autophagosomes and are degraded upon lysosome-vacuole fusion. In this study, we show that processing of GFP-tagged Atg8 can serve as a marker for autophagy in the fission yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe. Using this marker, 13 Atg homologues were also found to be required for autophagy in fission yeast. In budding yeast, autophagy-deficient mutants are known to be sterile, whereas in fission yeast we found that up to 30% of autophagy-defective cells with amino acid auxotrophy were able to recover sporulation when an excess of required amino acids was supplied. Furthermore, we found that approximately 15% of the autophagy-defective cells were also able to sporulate when a prototrophic strain was subjected to nitrogen starvation, which suggested that fission yeast may store sufficient intracellular nitrogen to allow partial sporulation under nitrogen-limiting conditions, although the majority of the nitrogen source is supplied by autophagy. Monitoring of the sporulation process revealed that the process was blocked non-specifically at various stages in the atg1D and atg12D mutants, possibly due to a shortage of amino acids. Taking advantage of this partial sporulation ability of fission yeast, we sought evidence for the existence of a recycling system for nitrogen sources during starvation.
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