Autophagy is a cell recycling process the molecular apparatus of which has been identified over the past decade. Autophagy allows cells to survive starvation and inhospitable conditions and plays a key role in numerous physiological functions, including hematopoiesis and immune responses. In hematologic malignancies, autophagy can either act as a chemo-resistance mechanism or have tumor suppressive functions, depending on the context. In addition, autophagy is involved in other important aspects of blood cancers as it promotes immune competence and anticancer immunity, and may even help enhance patient tolerance to standard treatments. Approaches exploiting autophagy, either to activate or inhibit it, could find broad application in hematologic malignancies and contribute to improved clinical outcomes. These aspects are discussed here together with a brief introduction to the molecular machinery of autophagy and to its role in blood cell physiology.
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