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LC3s (MAP1-LC3A, B and C) are structural proteins of autophagosomal membranes, widely used as biomarkers of autophagy. Whether these three LC3 proteins have a similar biological role in autophagy remains obscure. We examine in parallel the subcellular expression patterns of the three LC3 proteins in a panel of human cancer cell lines, as well as in normal MRC5 fibroblasts and HUVEC, using confocal microscopy and western blot analysis of cell fractions. In the cytoplasm, there was a minimal co-localization between LC3A, B and C staining, suggesting that the relevant autophagosomes are formed by only one out of the three LC3 proteins. LC3A showed a perinuclear and nuclear localization, while LC3B was equally distributed throughout the cytoplasm and localized in the nucleolar regions. LC3C was located in the cytoplasm and strongly in the nuclei (excluding nucleoli), where it extensively co-localized with the LC3A and the Beclin-1 autophagy initiating protein. Beclin 1 is known to contain a nuclear trafficking signal. Blocking nuclear export function by Leptomycin B resulted in nuclear accumulation of all LC3 and Beclin-1 proteins, while Ivermectin that blocks nuclear import showed reduction of accumulation, but not in all cell lines. Since endogenous LC3 proteins are used as major markers of autophagy in clinical studies and cell lines, it is essential to check the specificity of the antibodies used, as the kinetics of these molecules are not identical and may have distinct biological roles. The distinct subcellular expression patterns of LC3s provide a basis for further studies.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS One

Publication Date





Active Transport, Cell Nucleus, Antibodies, Apoptosis Regulatory Proteins, Autophagy, Beclin-1, Cell Line, Tumor, Fatty Acids, Unsaturated, Gene Expression Regulation, Human Umbilical Vein Endothelial Cells, Humans, Ivermectin, Macrolides, Membrane Proteins, Microtubule-Associated Proteins, Neoplasms, RNA Interference, RNA, Small Interfering