Gorski lab

Autophagy is an intracellular recycling process that promotes homeostasis, stress adaptation and cell survival. The autophagy process provides nutrients and energy through lysosomal degradation of cytoplasmic components engulfed in double membrane-bound vesicles known as autophagosomes. Autophagy occurs at basal rates in virtually all eukaryotic cells to fulfill homeostatic functions such as the recycling of long-lived proteins and damaged organelles. In this way, autophagy acts to safeguard genome integrity and suppress tumorigenesis. Under cellular stress conditions, autophagy is upregulated as an adaptive survival response. Cancer cells may exploit elevated autophagy to survive low nutrient conditions, fuel proliferation, and escape the effects of chemotherapy and other treatments.

Consequently, autophagy is under investigation as a target for anticancer therapy in preclinical studies and clinical trials. However, our understanding of the mechanisms by which cells utilize the autophagy pathway to promote both normal development and cancer progression is limited.

To help elucidate these mechanisms, the overall goals of my research program are to identify and characterize regulators of autophagy, investigate the roles of autophagy during normal development and cancer progression, and evaluate the therapeutic potential of autophagy modulation for cancer treatment.

Gorski lab cell photo
RFP-GFP-LC3B reporter in nutrient starved SKBR3 breast cancer cells.



We are located at Canada's Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre, part of the BC Cancer Research Centre.

675 West 10th Avenue 
Vancouver, British Columbia 
V5Z 1L3 


Selected Publications

Molecular Mechanisms Underlying Autophagy-Mediated Treatment Resistance in Cancer.

Cancers, 2019
Ho, Cally J, Gorski, Sharon M
Despite advances in diagnostic tools and therapeutic options, treatment resistance remains a challenge for many cancer patients. Recent studies have found evidence that autophagy, a cellular pathway that delivers cytoplasmic components to lysosomes for degradation and recycling, contributes to treatment resistance in different cancer types. A role for autophagy in resistance to chemotherapies and targeted therapies has been described based largely on associations with various signaling pathways, including MAPK and PI3K/AKT signaling. However, our current understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying the role of autophagy in facilitating treatment resistance remains limited. Here we provide a comprehensive summary of the evidence linking autophagy to major signaling pathways in the context of treatment resistance and tumor progression, and then highlight recently emerged molecular mechanisms underlying autophagy and the p62/KEAP1/NRF2 and FOXO3A/PUMA axes in chemoresistance.

Diverse mechanisms of autophagy dysregulation and their therapeutic implications: does the shoe fit?

Autophagy, 2019
Sathiyaseelan, Paalini, Rothe, Katharina, Yang, Kevin C, Xu, Jing, Chow, Norman S, Bortnik, Svetlana, Choutka, Courtney, Ho, Cally, Jiang, Xiaoyan, Gorski, Sharon M
In its third edition, the Vancouver Autophagy Symposium presented a platform for vibrant discussion on the differential roles of macroautophagy/autophagy in disease. This one-day symposium was held at the BC Cancer Research Centre in Vancouver, BC, bringing together experts in cell biology, protein biochemistry and medicinal chemistry across several different disease models and model organisms. The Vancouver Autophagy Symposium featured 2 keynote speakers that are well known for their seminal contributions to autophagy research, Dr. David Rubinsztein (Cambridge Institute for Medical Research) and Dr. Kay F. Macleod (University of Chicago). Key discussions included the context-dependent roles and mechanisms of dysregulation of autophagy in diseases and the corresponding need to consider context-dependent autophagy modulation strategies. Additional highlights included the differential roles of bulk autophagy versus selective autophagy, novel autophagy regulators, and emerging chemical tools to study autophagy inhibition. Interdisciplinary discussions focused on addressing questions such as which stage of disease to target, which type of autophagy to target and which component to target for autophagy modulation. : AD: Alzheimer disease; AMFR/Gp78: autocrine motility factor receptor; CCCP: carbonyl cyanide -chlorophenylhydrazone; CML: chronic myeloid leukemia; CVB3: coxsackievirus B3; DRPLA: dentatorubral-pallidoluysian atrophy; ER: endoplasmic reticulum; ERAD: ER-associated degradation; FA: focal adhesion; HCQ: hydroxychloroquine; HD: Huntingtin disease; HIF1A/Hif1α: hypoxia inducible factor 1 subunit alpha; HTT: huntingtin; IM: imatinib mesylate; MAP1LC3B: microtubule associated protein 1 light chain 3 beta; NBR1: neighbour of BRCA1; OGA: O-GlcNAcase; PDAC: pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma; PLEKHM1: pleckstrin homology and RUN domain containing M1; polyQ: poly-glutamine; ROS: reactive oxygen species; RP: retinitis pigmentosa; SNAP29: synaptosome associated protein 29; SPCA3: spinocerebellar ataxia type 3; TNBC: triple-negative breast cancer.

The interplay between exosomes and autophagy - partners in crime.

Journal of cell science, 2018
Xu, Jing, Camfield, Robert, Gorski, Sharon M
The eukaryotic endomembrane system is a complex series of interconnected membranous organelles that play important roles in responding to stress and maintaining cell homeostasis during health and disease. Two components of this system, exosome biogenesis and autophagy, are linked by the endolysosomal pathway. Exosomes are cargo-laden extracellular vesicles that arise from endosome-derived multivesicular bodies, and autophagy is a lysosomal-dependent degradation and recycling pathway. Recent studies have revealed shared molecular machinery between exosome biogenesis and autophagy, as well as substantial crosstalk between these two processes. In this Review, we first describe the classic view of exosome biogenesis and autophagy, including their links to the endolysosomal pathway. We then present the evidence for autophagy-related proteins in exosome biogenesis, the emerging roles of amphisomes and the evolving models of exosome-autophagy pathway interactions. Finally, we discuss the implications of exosome and autophagy interplay in the context of neurodegeneration and cancer.

Evolution of tools and methods for monitoring autophagic flux in mammalian cells.

Biochemical Society transactions, 2018
Yang, Kevin C, Sathiyaseelan, Paalini, Ho, Cally, Gorski, Sharon M
Autophagy is an evolutionarily conserved lysosome-mediated degradation and recycling process, which functions in cellular homeostasis and stress adaptation. The process is highly dynamic and involves autophagosome synthesis, cargo recognition and transport, autophagosome-lysosome fusion, and cargo degradation. The multistep nature of autophagy makes it challenging to quantify, and it is important to consider not only the number of autophagosomes within a cell but also the autophagic degradative activity. The rate at which cargos are recognized, segregated, and degraded through the autophagy pathway is defined as autophagic flux. In practice, methods to measure autophagic flux typically evaluate the lysosome-mediated cargo degradation step by leveraging known autophagy markers such as MAP1LC3B (microtubule-associated proteins 1A/1B light chain 3 beta) or lysosome-dependent fluorescent agents. In this review, we summarize the tools and methods used in mammalian cultured cells pertaining to these two approaches, and highlight innovations that have led to their evolution in recent years. We also discuss the potential limitations of these approaches and recommend using a combination of strategies and multiple different autophagy markers to reliably evaluate autophagic flux in mammalian cells.

Molecular characterization of metastatic pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (PNETs) using whole-genome and transcriptome sequencing.

Cold Spring Harbor molecular case studies, 2018
Wong, Hui-Li, Yang, Kevin C, Shen, Yaoqing, Zhao, Eric Y, Loree, Jonathan M, Kennecke, Hagen F, Kalloger, Steve E, Karasinska, Joanna M, Lim, Howard J, Mungall, Andrew J, Feng, Xiaolan, Davies, Janine M, Schrader, Kasmintan, Zhou, Chen, Karsan, Aly, Jones, Steven J M, Laskin, Janessa, Marra, Marco A, Schaeffer, David F, Gorski, Sharon M, Renouf, Daniel J
Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (PNETs) are a genomically and clinically heterogeneous group of pancreatic neoplasms often diagnosed with distant metastases. Recurrent somatic mutations, chromosomal aberrations, and gene expression signatures in PNETs have been described, but the clinical significance of these molecular changes is still poorly understood, and the clinical outcomes of PNET patients remain highly variable. To help identify the molecular factors that contribute to PNET progression and metastasis, and as part of an ongoing clinical trial at the BC Cancer Agency (clinicaltrials.gov ID: NCT02155621), the genomic and transcriptomic profiles of liver metastases from five patients (four PNETs and one neuroendocrine carcinoma) were analyzed. In four of the five cases, we identified biallelic loss of and as well as recurrent regions with loss of heterozygosity. Several novel findings were observed, including focal amplification of concomitant with loss of and in one sample with wild-type and Transcriptome analyses revealed up-regulation of target genes in this sample, confirming a -driven gene expression signature. We also identified a germline fusion event in one sample that resulted in a striking C>T mutation signature profile not previously reported in PNETs. These varying molecular alterations suggest different cellular pathways may contribute to PNET progression, consistent with the heterogeneous clinical nature of this disease. Furthermore, genomic profiles appeared to correlate well with treatment response, lending support to the role of prospective genotyping efforts to guide therapy in PNETs.

Hsp83 loss suppresses proteasomal activity resulting in an upregulation of caspase-dependent compensatory autophagy.

Autophagy, 2017
Choutka, Courtney, DeVorkin, Lindsay, Go, Nancy Erro, Hou, Ying-Chen Claire, Moradian, Annie, Morin, Gregg B, Gorski, Sharon M
The 2 main degradative pathways that contribute to proteostasis are the ubiquitin-proteasome system and autophagy but how they are molecularly coordinated is not well understood. Here, we demonstrate an essential role for an effector caspase in the activation of compensatory autophagy when proteasomal activity is compromised. Functional loss of Hsp83, the Drosophila ortholog of human HSP90 (heat shock protein 90), resulted in reduced proteasomal activity and elevated levels of the effector caspase Dcp-1. Surprisingly, genetic analyses showed that the caspase was not required for cell death in this context, but instead was essential for the ensuing compensatory autophagy, female fertility, and organism viability. The zymogen pro-Dcp-1 was found to interact with Hsp83 and undergo proteasomal regulation in an Hsp83-dependent manner. Our work not only reveals unappreciated roles for Hsp83 in proteasomal activity and regulation of Dcp-1, but identifies an effector caspase as a key regulatory factor for sustaining adaptation to cell stress in vivo.

Identification of breast cancer cell subtypes sensitive to ATG4B inhibition.

Oncotarget, 2016
Bortnik, Svetlana, Choutka, Courtney, Horlings, Hugo M, Leung, Samuel, Baker, Jennifer H, Lebovitz, Chandra, Dragowska, Wieslawa H, Go, Nancy E, Bally, Marcel B, Minchinton, Andrew I, Gelmon, Karen A, Gorski, Sharon M
Autophagy, a lysosome-mediated degradation and recycling process, functions in advanced malignancies to promote cancer cell survival and contribute to cancer progression and drug resistance. While various autophagy inhibition strategies are under investigation for cancer treatment, corresponding patient selection criteria for these autophagy inhibitors need to be developed. Due to its central roles in the autophagy process, the cysteine protease ATG4B is one of the autophagy proteins being pursued as a potential therapeutic target. In this study, we investigated the expression of ATG4B in breast cancer, a heterogeneous disease comprised of several molecular subtypes. We examined a panel of breast cancer cell lines, xenograft tumors, and breast cancer patient specimens for the protein expression of ATG4B, and found a positive association between HER2 and ATG4B protein expression. We showed that HER2-positive cells, but not HER2-negative breast cancer cells, require ATG4B to survive under stress. In HER2-positive cells, cytoprotective autophagy was dependent on ATG4B under both starvation and HER2 inhibition conditions. Combined knockdown of ATG4B and HER2 by siRNA resulted in a significant decrease in cell viability, and the combination of ATG4B knockdown with trastuzumab resulted in a greater reduction in cell viability compared to trastuzumab treatment alone, in both trastuzumab-sensitive and -resistant HER2 overexpressing breast cancer cells. Together these results demonstrate a novel association of ATG4B positive expression with HER2 positive breast cancers and indicate that this subtype is suitable for emerging ATG4B inhibition strategies.

Cross-cancer profiling of molecular alterations within the human autophagy interaction network.

Autophagy, 2015
Lebovitz, Chandra B, Robertson, A Gordon, Goya, Rodrigo, Jones, Steven J, Morin, Ryan D, Marra, Marco A, Gorski, Sharon M
Aberrant activation or disruption of autophagy promotes tumorigenesis in various preclinical models of cancer, but whether the autophagy pathway is a target for recurrent molecular alteration in human cancer patient samples is unknown. To address this outstanding question, we surveyed 211 human autophagy-associated genes for tumor-related alterations to DNA sequence and RNA expression levels and examined their association with patient survival outcomes in multiple cancer types with sequence data from The Cancer Genome Atlas consortium. We found 3 (RB1CC1/FIP200, ULK4, WDR45/WIPI4) and one (ATG7) core autophagy genes to be under positive selection for somatic mutations in endometrial carcinoma and clear cell renal carcinoma, respectively, while 29 autophagy regulators and pathway interactors, including previously identified KEAP1, NFE2L2, and MTOR, were significantly mutated in 6 of the 11 cancer types examined. Gene expression analyses revealed that GABARAPL1 and MAP1LC3C/LC3C transcripts were less abundant in breast cancer and non-small cell lung cancers than in matched normal tissue controls; ATG4D transcripts were increased in lung squamous cell carcinoma, as were ATG16L2 transcripts in kidney cancer. Unsupervised clustering of autophagy-associated mRNA levels in tumors stratified patient overall survival in 3 of 9 cancer types (acute myeloid leukemia, clear cell renal carcinoma, and head and neck cancer). These analyses provide the first comprehensive resource of recurrently altered autophagy-associated genes in human tumors, and highlight cancer types and subtypes where perturbed autophagy may be relevant to patient overall survival.

The Drosophila effector caspase Dcp-1 regulates mitochondrial dynamics and autophagic flux via SesB.

The Journal of cell biology, 2014
DeVorkin, Lindsay, Go, Nancy Erro, Hou, Ying-Chen Claire, Moradian, Annie, Morin, Gregg B, Gorski, Sharon M
Increasing evidence reveals that a subset of proteins participates in both the autophagy and apoptosis pathways, and this intersection is important in normal physiological contexts and in pathological settings. In this paper, we show that the Drosophila effector caspase, Drosophila caspase 1 (Dcp-1), localizes within mitochondria and regulates mitochondrial morphology and autophagic flux. Loss of Dcp-1 led to mitochondrial elongation, increased levels of the mitochondrial adenine nucleotide translocase stress-sensitive B (SesB), increased adenosine triphosphate (ATP), and a reduction in autophagic flux. Moreover, we find that SesB suppresses autophagic flux during midoogenesis, identifying a novel negative regulator of autophagy. Reduced SesB activity or depletion of ATP by oligomycin A could rescue the autophagic defect in Dcp-1 loss-of-function flies, demonstrating that Dcp-1 promotes autophagy by negatively regulating SesB and ATP levels. Furthermore, we find that pro-Dcp-1 interacts with SesB in a nonproteolytic manner to regulate its stability. These data reveal a new mitochondrial-associated molecular link between nonapoptotic caspase function and autophagy regulation in vivo.


Dr. Suganthi Chittaranjan

Staff Scientist

Nancy Erro Go

Research Assistant

Dr. Stephanie McInnis

Projects Manager

Robert Camfield


Postdoctoral Fellows

Dr. Gayathri Samarasekera

Postdoctoral Fellow


Cally Ho

Graduate Student

Paalini Sathiyaseelan

Graduate Student

Kevin Yang

Graduate Student

Jennifer Chan

Student Researcher

Shivani Perera

Student Researcher

Devon Chohan

Directed Studies Student

Theodore Hui

Directed Studies Student
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