Caffeine is among the most highly consumed substances worldwide, and it has been associated with decreased cardiovascular risk. Although caffeine has been shown to inhibit the proliferation of vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs), the mechanism underlying this effect is unknown. Here, we demonstrated that caffeine decreased VSMC proliferation and induced macroautophagy/autophagy in an in vivo vascular injury model of restenosis. Furthermore, we studied the effects of caffeine in primary human and mouse aortic VSMCs and immortalized mouse aortic VSMCs. Caffeine decreased cell proliferation, and induced autophagy flux via inhibition of MTOR signaling in these cells. Genetic deletion of the key autophagy gene Atg5, and the Sqstm1/p62 gene encoding a receptor protein, showed that the anti-proliferative effect by caffeine was dependent upon autophagy. Interestingly, caffeine also decreased WNT-signaling and the expression of two WNT target genes, Axin2 and Ccnd1 (cyclin D1). This effect was mediated by autophagic degradation of a key member of the WNT signaling cascade, DVL2, by caffeine to decrease WNT signaling and cell proliferation. SQSTM1/p62, MAP1LC3B-II and DVL2 were also shown to interact with each other, and the overexpression of DVL2 counteracted the inhibition of cell proliferation by caffeine. Taken together, our in vivo and in vitro findings demonstrated that caffeine reduced VSMC proliferation by inhibiting WNT signaling via stimulation of autophagy, thus reducing the vascular restenosis. Our findings suggest that caffeine and other autophagy-inducing drugs may represent novel cardiovascular therapeutic tools to protect against restenosis after angioplasty and/or stent placement.
In 2008, we published the first set of guidelines for standardizing research in autophagy. Since then, this topic has received increasing attention, and many scientists have entered the field. Our knowledge base and relevant new technologies have also been expanding. Thus, it is important to formulate on a regular basis updated guidelines for monitoring autophagy in different organisms. Despite numerous reviews, there continues to be confusion regarding acceptable methods to evaluate autophagy, especially in multicellular eukaryotes. Here, we present a set of guidelines for investigators to select and interpret methods to examine autophagy and related processes, and for reviewers to provide realistic and reasonable critiques of reports that are focused on these processes. These guidelines are not meant to be a dogmatic set of rules, because the appropriateness of any assay largely depends on the question being asked and the system being used. Moreover, no individual assay is perfect for every situation, calling for the use of multiple techniques to properly monitor autophagy in each experimental setting. Finally, several core components of the autophagy machinery have been implicated in distinct autophagic processes (canonical and noncanonical autophagy), implying that genetic approaches to block autophagy should rely on targeting two or more autophagy-related genes that ideally participate in distinct steps of the pathway. Along similar lines, because multiple proteins involved in autophagy also regulate other cellular pathways including apoptosis, not all of them can be used as a specific marker for bona fide autophagic responses. Here, we critically discuss current methods of assessing autophagy and the information they can, or cannot, provide. Our ultimate goal is to encourage intellectual and technical innovation in the field.