Featured Journal Interview
According to a recent analysis of
Essential Science IndicatorsSM from
Reuters, the journal Autophagy is having a
impact in the field of Biology & Biochemistry.
Its record in this field includes 414 papers cited a
total of 2,692 times from its launch in 2005 to
February 28, 2009. In our Special Topics analysis on
journal ranks at #1 by total number
of papers and #4 by total cites among journals
publishing on the topic over the past decade.
Autophagy is published by Landes
In the interview below,
ScienceWatch.com talks with Autophagy's
Editor-in-Chief, Dr. Daniel Klionsky, about the
journal's history and citation record.
Did you expect Autophagy to become highly
cited, or is this surprising to you?
I certainly hoped that Autophagy would become highly cited, and
the editors and I have definitely been working to make that happen.
How would you account for the increased citation rate of
The field continues to expand—there has been a dramatic increase in
autophagy research over the past 10 years. With more researchers working on
this topic, there are more people who will potentially cite papers in this
area. We have already observed the impact of this growth on autophagy
citations. For example, there has been at least a 10-fold increase in the
number of papers that include "autophagy" as a keyword since 1999.
Was there a change in policy or editorial direction that
might account for this?
Yes. There has been a conscious effort by the associate editors and the
members of the editorial board to increase the stringency for accepting
papers. We want to set a high standard for the quality of papers published
in our field, and our acceptance rate has been decreasing accordingly as we
keep pushing the bar higher.
Neuron in mCherry, with GFP-LC3 showing
As a result, the quality of our papers continues to increase, which should
lead to more citations per paper. At the same time, we are receiving more
papers than in previous years, so even with high standards we are
publishing several more papers per issue of the journal, which also
accounts for an increase in total citations.
What historical factors have contributed to the success
Although autophagy has been studied for approximately 50 years, the
molecular understanding of this process began little more than a decade
ago. As a result, we are in a phase where scientists are discovering new
connections between autophagy and other research topics at an amazing rate.
Many people are now asking the question as to whether defects in, or the
induction of, autophagy can explain observations that in some cases were
made several years ago. With the molecular tools in hand, researchers can
now start to answer that question.
Have there been specific developments in the fields
served by Autophagy that may have contributed?
Advances in various fields have definitely allowed researchers to
appreciate the contributions of autophagy. For example, autophagy is an
essential process depending on the organism and the stress conditions. In
mammals, autophagy is required to proceed past the four- to eight-cell
stage during embryogenesis, which makes it difficult to study the effects
of gene deletions. The development and application of the Cre-flox system
that allows tissue-specific and developmentally regulated knockouts of
autophagy-related genes has permitted researchers to overcome some of the
problems associated with knocking out essential genes.
In addition, the improvement in fluorescent protein technology has
facilitated a wide range of studies that are focused on the localization of
autophagy proteins. The many connections between autophagy and other
pathways has attracted a large number of highly skilled and imaginative
researchers to this field, and this has led, and continues to lead, to the
development of novel reagents and techniques that further everyone’s
ability to study this process.
What, in your view, is this journal’s main
significance or contribution in the field of Biology &
I think it is quite unusual at this point in time for researchers to
uncover an essentially unknown (again, in terms of the molecular
components) pathway that requires at least 20 to 30 proteins. One of the
reasons autophagy is such a fascinating topic is because it involves many
different aspects of cell biology and biochemistry. For example, there are
issues of regulation and signal transduction. Autophagy occurs at a basal
level, but can be induced in response to various types of stress. However,
too much autophagy can be just as much of a problem as too little. Thus,
autophagy has to be tightly regulated, and we are just beginning to work
out the control mechanisms.
For those interested in proteins and protein-protein interactions,
autophagy is unique because it employs novel protein modifications. There
are two ubiquitin-like autophagy-related proteins, one of which becomes
conjugated to a phospholipid. This protein, Atg8 (also called LC3 in
mammals) likely plays a critical role in autophagy, but its function is
still not entirely known. This is also a pathway that involves dynamic
The best-characterized type of autophagy is macroautophagy, in which a
double-membrane cytosolic vesicle, an autophagosome, is formed that
sequesters portions of the cytoplasm. Unlike vesicles that form throughout
the secretory pathway, autophagosomes form de novo. By that, I
mean that they do not bud off from a preexisting organelle, or form in a
single step. Rather, they expand from an initial membrane structure, the
phagophore, probably through the addition of membrane by vesicular fusion.
The source of the membrane for phagophore expansion is not known with
certainty, and the mechanism of autophagosome formation is the focus of
intensive investigation. One important point is that this unique mechanism
of vesicle formation means that the autophagosome can sequester essentially
any type of cargo including invasive pathogens or entire organelles.
"Although autophagy has been studied
for approximately 50 years, the molecular
understanding of this process began little
more than a decade ago."
Therefore, autophagy plays an important role in cellular remodeling,
removal of damaged or superfluous organelles, and cellular homeostasis. So,
autophagy is interesting both at a basic level to scientists interested in
understanding how the cell works, and at a clinical level, because there is
tremendous potential in manipulating autophagy for therapeutic purposes.
What more can you ask for?
How do you see your field(s) evolving in the next few
Because of the complexity, the molecular mechanism of autophagy will not be
elucidated in the near future. Thus, many researchers will continue to work
on the basic cell biology and biochemical aspects of this process. There
will also be an expansion into the clinical aspects of autophagy research.
For example, autophagy participates in tumor suppression, and many
scientists are investigating whether the induction or suppression of
autophagy can help kill cancer cells, in part by making them more
susceptible to anticancer agents.
Another topic with tremendous potential is the area of neurodegeneration.
Some elegant studies have indicated that autophagy plays a role in
protecting against certain neurodegenerative diseases. I do not think it is
too far-fetched to consider the possibility that we could eventually
modulate autophagy in a tissue-specific manner to prevent the onset, or at
least ameliorate the symptoms, of some types of neurodegeneration.
Autophagy occurs in all eukaryotes and probably in most if not all tissues,
so the possibilities are extensive.
What role do you see for your journal?
I see several roles for Autophagy. As I indicated above, I think
we need to set a standard for autophagy research. Along these lines, we
published an article on the guidelines for the use and interpretation of
assays for monitoring autophagy in higher eukaryotes, because I thought it
was important to establish a working set of recommendations. Over 200
researchers in the field contributed to the guidelines, which provide a
reference for anyone interested in this topic, especially people new to the
Because I think we will continue to see an increase in clinical autophagy
research, it is important that clinical and basic scientists interact and
be aware of each other’s work. However, many people carrying out
applied research publish in journals that basic scientists do not routinely
read, and vice versa. Therefore, Autophagy has started to
encourage scientists to submit clinically oriented research papers by
adding associate editors who are familiar with clinical research, and
introducing a category specifically for clinical studies.
One aspect of science that I have always enjoyed is working with others.
Therefore, one goal of Autophagy is to facilitate the development
of a community, and to keep the field friendly. Currently, I think
autophagy is a very interactive and welcoming field. Reagents are freely
exchanged, and many laboratories collaborate. One of the ways the journal
attempts to encourage communication is by soliciting reviews on specific
topics from multiple labs working in particular areas; minimally, the
authors need to communicate with each other to work on the review article,
and that may lead to further interactions.
Finally, Autophagy will continue to seek ways to advance the
field. For example, we are just about to launch a new feature that provides
protocols online, which can be updated as needed. There will also be a
method for investigators to post questions to the authors, which can be
answered online. Autophagy is in its infancy, and is a rapidly changing
field at present. Autophagy will attempt to facilitate research in
this field by involving the top researchers on its editorial board,
attracting the best research papers, and evolving as necessary to reflect
the needs of the growing body of scientists working in this
Dr. Daniel Klionsky, Editor-in-Chief
Landes Bioscience, publishers
KEYWORDS: AUTOPHAGY, CITATION RATE, MOLECULAR TOOLS,
EMBRYOGENESIS, GENE DELETIONS, CRE-FLOX SYSTEM, KNOCKOUTS,
FLUORESCENT PROTEIN TECHNOLOGY, CELL BIOLOGY, BIOCHEMISTRY,
REGULATION, SIGNAL TRANSDUCTION, CONTROL MECHANISMS, PROTEINS,
MACROAUTOPHAGY, CELLULAR REMODELING, TUMOR SUPPRESSION,
NEURODEGENERATION, CLINICALLY ORIENTED RESEARCH.