Autophagy is a degradative pathway for cytoplasmic constituents, and is conserved across eukaryotes. Autophagy-related (ATG) genes have undergone extensive multiplications and losses in different eukaryotic lineages, resulting in functional diversification and specialization. Notably, even though bacteria and archaea do not possess an autophagy pathway, they do harbor some remote homologs of Atg proteins, suggesting that preexisting proteins were recruited when the autophagy pathway developed during eukaryogenesis. In this Review, we summarize our current knowledge on the distribution of Atg proteins within eukaryotes and outline the major multiplication and loss events within the eukaryotic tree. We also discuss the potential prokaryotic homologs of Atg proteins identified to date, emphasizing the evolutionary relationships and functional differences between prokaryotic and eukaryotic proteins.

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