2012 Kyoto Prize Laureates

Basic Sciences

Life Sciences(Molecular Biology, Cell Biology, Neurobiology)

Yoshinori Ohsumi

/  Molecular Cell Biologist

1945 -

Professor, Tokyo Institute of Technology

Commemorative Lectures

The World of Autophagy as Seen through Yeast—The Intracellular Recycling System—


11 /11 Sun

Place:Kyoto International Conference Center


50 Years of Autophagy


11 /12 Mon

13:00 - 17:00

Place:Kyoto International Conference Center

Achievement Digest

“Outstanding Contribution to Elucidating the Molecular Mechanisms and Physiological Significance of Autophagy, a Cellular Adaptive System to Environment”

Dr. Ohsumi has achieved world-leading results in his genetic study of autophagy in yeast, a cellular process that degrades proteins in order to adapt to the nutritional environment and other factors. He has made groundbreaking contributions toward elucidating of the molecular mechanisms of autophagy and its physiological significance.


Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi has made groundbreaking contributions to science in his cellular genetic study of autophagy (also known as “cellular self-cannibalization”) in yeast, a cellular process that degrades proteins in order to adapt to the nutritional environment and other factors. Autophagy was first proposed in the early 1960s, having been inferred from the observation that cytosolic components such as mitochondria and endoplasmic reticulum are found in single-layered membranes within the lysosome, known as the food vacuole or phagosome in animal cells. The term autophagy refers to a process whereby intracellular components and organelles are incorporated into the lysosome for degradation. For some time, the phenomenon was reported to occur in a variety of cells and some organs, but the molecular mechanism and physiological significance remained unclear. In 1992, while studying the function of vacuoles using the budding yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Dr. Ohsumi discovered that intracellular components and organelles enclosed by single-layered membranes appeared within the vacuole if proteinase B-deficient strains were exposed to a low-nutrient culture medium. This was the first demonstration that autophagy could be induced in yeast. By following this observation, Dr. Ohsumi then isolated a number of mutants in which autophagy is not induced even if proteases are inhibited and nutrients are depleted. His discovery of autophagy in yeast and these mutants paved the way for analysis of the molecular mechanisms involved in autophagy. Thus far, his findings have led to the identification of several dozen molecules involved in autophagy, and functional analysis of these molecules is shedding light on the pathway determining how the de novo formation of a membrane structure containing intracellular components and organelles, and its fusion with a lysosome, take place in response to starvation and other stimuli.

The discovery of factors involved in the autophagic process in yeast has also helped to identify their homologs in mammalian and other animal cells. This has, in turn, enabled many researchers to reveal the broad physiological significance of autophagy in animals—namely, that autophagy is essential for neonates to adapt to the starvation state at birth; that autophagy is necessary to prevent neural cell death, as it hinders the accumulation of abnormal proteins in nerves; and that metabolic turnover via autophagy is vital to the maintenance of myocardial contraction.

Dr. Ohsumi’s contributions to this field deserve high recognition, as he has opened the door to elucidating the molecular mechanisms and physiological significance of autophagy—a cellular self-cannibalization system that represents a vital and fundamental process in living organisms.

For these reasons, the Inamori Foundation is pleased to present the 2012 Kyoto Prize in Basic Sciences to Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi.


Born in Fukuoka, Japan
B.Sc., The University of Tokyo
D.Sc., The University of Tokyo
Post Doctoral Fellow, Rockefeller University
Research Associate, Faculty of Science, The University of Tokyo
Lecturer, Faculty of Science, The University of Tokyo
Associate Professor, College of Arts and Sciences, The University of Tokyo
Professor, National Institute for Basic Biology
Professor, The Graduate University for Advanced Studies
Professor Emeritus, National Institute for Basic Biology
Professor Emeritus, The Graduate University for Advanced Studies
Professor, Tokyo Institute of Technology
Selected Awards and Honors
Fujihara Award, The Fujihara Foundation of Science
Japan Academy Prize, The Japan Academy
2008 Asahi Prize, The Asahi Shimbun
Selected Publications
Autophagy in Yeast Demonstrated with Proteinase-Deficient Mutants and Conditions for its Induction (Takeshige, K. et al.), J. Cell Biol. 119: 301-311, 1992
Isolation and Characterization of Autophagy-Defective Mutants of Saccharomyces cerevisiae (Tsukada, M. and Ohsumi, Y.), FEBS Lett. 333: 169-174, 1993
A Protein Conjugation System Essential for Autophagy (Mizushima, N. et al.), Nature 395: 395-398, 1998
A Ubiquitin-like System Mediates Protein Lipidation (Ichimura, Y. et al.), Nature 408: 488-492, 2000
The Pre-Autophagosomal Structure Organized by Concerted Functions of APG Genes Is Essential for Autophagosome Formation (Suzuki, K. et al.), EMBO J. 20: 5971-5981, 2001
Atg8, a Ubiquitin-like Protein Required for Autophagosome Formation, Mediates Membrane Tethering and Hemifusion (Nakatogawa, H., Ichimura, Y. and Ohsumi, Y.), Cell 130: 165-178, 2007

Profile is at the time of the award.