Caffeine induces macroautophagy and confers a cytocidal effect on food spoilage yeast in combination with benzoic acid

Gal Winter, Reut Hazan, Alan T. Bakalinsky, Hagai Abeliovich*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Weak organic acids are an important class of food preservatives that are particularly efficacious towards yeast and fungal spoilage. While acids with small aliphatic chains appear to function by acidification of the cytosol and are required at high concentrations to inhibit growth, more hydrophobic organic acids such as sorbic and benzoic acid have been suggested to function by perturbing membrane dynamics and are growth-inhibitory at much lower concentrations. We previously demonstrated that benzoic acid has selective effects on membrane trafficking in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Benzoic acid selectively blocks macroautophagy in S. cerevisiae while acetic acid does not, and sorbic acid does so to a lesser extent. Indeed, while both benzoic acid and nitrogen starvation are cytostatic when assayed separately, the combination of these treatments is cytocidal, because macroautophagy is essential for survival during nitrogen starvation. In this report, we demonstrate that Zygosaccharomyces bailii, a food spoilage yeast with relatively high resistance to weak acid stress, also exhibits a cytocidal response to the combination of benzoic acid and nitrogen starvation. In addition, we show that nitrogen starvation can be replaced by caffeine supplementation. Caffeine induces a starvation response that includes the induction of macroautophagy, and the combination of caffeine and benzoic acid is cytocidal, as predicted from the nitrogen starvation data.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)28-36
Number of pages9
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2008

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by grant number 496/03 from the Israel endocytosis in yeast. J Cell Biol 1995; 128:779‑92.


  • Autophagy
  • Benzoic acid
  • Caffeine
  • Food spoilage
  • Food toxicology
  • S. cerevisiae
  • Vacuole
  • Z. bailii


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