In hydra, the regulation of the balance between cell death and cell survival is essential to maintain homeostasis across the animal and promote animal survival during starvation. Moreover, this balance also appears to play a key role during regeneration of the apical head region. The recent finding that autophagy is a crucial component of this balance strengthens the value of the Hydra model system to analyze the implications of autophagy in starvation, stress response and regeneration. We describe here how we adapted to Hydra some established tools to monitor steady-state autophagy. The ATG8/LC3 marker used in biochemical and immunohistochemical analyses showed a significant increase in autophagosome formation in digestive cells after 11 days of starvation. Moreover, the maceration procedure that keeps intact the morphology of the various cell types allows the quantification of the autophagosomes and autolysosomes in any cell type, thanks to the detection of the MitoFluor or LysoTracker dyes combined with the anti-LC3, anti-LBPA, and/or anti-RSK (ribosomal S6 kinase) immunostaining. The classical activator (rapamycin) and inhibitors (wortmannin, bafilomycin A(1)) of autophagy also appear to be valuable tools to modulate autophagy in hydra, as daily-fed and starved hydra display slightly different responses. Finally, we show that the genetic circuitry underlying autophagy can be qualitatively and quantitatively tested through RNA interference in hydra repeatedly exposed to double-stranded RNAs.
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