Autophagy is a universal catabolic cellular process for quality control of cytoplasm and maintenance of cellular homeostasis upon nutrient deprivation and environmental stimulus. It involves the lysosomal degradation of cellular components such as misfolded proteins or damaged organelles. Defects in autophagy are implicated in the pathogenesis of diseases including cancers, myopathy, neurodegenerations, infections and cardiovascular diseases. In the recent decade, traditional drugs with new clinical applications are not only commonly found in Western medicines, but also highlighted in Chinese herbal medicines (CHM). For instance, pharmacological studies have revealed that active components or fractions from Chaihu (Radix bupleuri
), Hu Zhang (Rhizoma polygoni cuspidati
), Donglingcao (Rabdosia rubesens
), Hou po (Cortex magnoliae officinalis
) and Chuan xiong (Rhizoma chuanxiong
) modulate cancers, neurodegeneration and cardiovascular disease via autophagy. These findings shed light on the potential new applications and formulation of CHM decoctions via regulation of autophagy. This article reviews the roles of autophagy in the pharmacological actions of CHM and discusses their new potential clinical applications in various human diseases.
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