Cancer Chemotherapy and Pharmacology

, Volume 83, Issue 1, pp 17–26 | Cite as

Autophagy and its potent modulators from phytochemicals in cancer treatment

  • Chao-Yue Sun
  • Qian-Yu Zhang
  • Guang-Juan ZhengEmail author
  • Bing FengEmail author
Review Article


Autophagy is a ubiquitous catabolic process by which damaged or harmful intracellular components are delivered to the lysosomes for self-digestion and recycling. It is critical in cancer treatment. Therapy-induced autophagy predominantly acts as a pro-survival mechanism, but progressive autophagy can lead to non-apoptotic cell death, also known as autophagic cell death. Plants or herbs contain various natural compounds that are widely used in the treatment of many types of malignancies. Emerging evidence indicates that phytochemicals targeting the autophagic pathway are promising agents for cancer treatment. However, these compounds play different roles in autophagy. In this review, we discussed the role of autophagy in cancer development and therapy, and focussed on elucidating the anti-cancer activities of autophagic modulators, especially phytochemicals. Notably, we described a novel premise that the dynamic role of phytochemicals should be evaluated in regulation of autophagy in cancer.


Autophagy Modulators Phytochemicals Cancer Degree 



This work was supported by Grants from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant no. 81403142), and the Science and Technology Planning Project of Guangdong Province (Grant no. 2016A020226048).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

All four authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Ethical approval

This review does not contain any experiments involving humans or animals, and hence ethical clearance was not required.


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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Guangdong Provincial Hospital of Chinese Medicine, The Second Clinical CollegeGuangzhou University of Chinese MedicineGuangzhouChina
  2. 2.School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Guangzhou Higher Education Mega CenterGuangzhou University of Chinese MedicineGuangzhouChina

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