Mammalian autophagosomes form from finger-like phagophores.


The sequence of morphological intermediates that leads to mammalian autophagosome formation and closure is a crucial yet poorly understood issue. Previous studies have shown that yeast autophagosomes evolve from cup-shaped phagophores with only one closure point, and mammalian studies have inferred that mammalian phagophores also have single openings. Our superresolution microscopy studies in different human cell lines in conditions of basal and nutrient-deprivation-induced autophagy identified autophagosome precursors with multifocal origins that evolved into unexpected finger-like phagophores with multiple openings before becoming more spherical structures. Compatible phagophore structures were observed with whole-mount and conventional electron microscopy. This sequence of events was visualized using advanced SIM2 superresolution live microscopy. The finger-shaped phagophore apertures remained open when ESCRT function was compromised. The efficient closure of autophagic structures is important for their release from the recycling endosome. This has important implications for understanding how autophagosomes form and capture various cargoes.