au·​tol·​y·​sis ȯ-ˈtä-lə-səs How to pronounce autolysis (audio)
: breakdown of all or part of a cell or tissue by self-produced enzymes
autolytic adjective

Examples of autolysis in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Per Liger-Belair, there's a common misconception, even among champagne enthusiasts, that the wine should not age beyond this point, but this yeast autolysis is a slow process, so higher-quality champagnes are allowed to age on lees even longer. Jennifer Ouellette, Ars Technica, 28 July 2023 Cells deprived of oxygen start digesting themselves in a process called autolysis. Jennifer Debruyn, The Conversation, 28 Sep. 2023 Then, cells begin to break down as the body’s own enzymes destroy them — a process called autolysis. Alison Klesman, Discover Magazine, 29 Sep. 2021 One of the imperfections is that autolysis – the process wherein a cell’s own enzymes begin to consume it – is not stopped or reversed. Kyle Munkittrick, Discover Magazine, 29 Oct. 2010 When small fish start to decay, the bacterial flora in their guts burst through cell walls, initiating the process of autolysis. Taras Grescoe, Smithsonian Magazine, 23 Oct. 2021 This is because of the quick breakdown process known as autolysis, which begins almost immediately after death and involves enzymes breaking down the tissue. Ashley Strickland, CNN, 8 Jan. 2020 According to researchers, brains tend to decompose quickly after death in a rapid process of autolysis, where enzymes break up the tissue. Fox News, 12 Jan. 2020 This means that the autolysis breakdown process was prevented from the outside of the brain, essentially being deactivated. Ashley Strickland, CNN, 8 Jan. 2020

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'autolysis.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


borrowed from German Autolyse, from auto- auto- + -lyse -lysis

Note: The term was apparently introduced by the German physician and biochemist Martin Johann Jacoby (1872-1941) in "Ueber die fermentative Eiweisspaltung und Ammoniakbildung in der Leber," Hoppe-Seyler's Zeitschrift für physiologische Chemie, 30. Band (1900), p. 159 passim.

First Known Use

1900, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of autolysis was in 1900

Dictionary Entries Near autolysis

Cite this Entry

“Autolysis.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 14 Apr. 2024.

Medical Definition


au·​tol·​y·​sis -ə-səs How to pronounce autolysis (audio)
plural autolyses -ə-ˌsēz How to pronounce autolysis (audio)
: breakdown of all or part of a cell or tissue by self-produced enzymes

called also self-digestion

autolytic adjective

More from Merriam-Webster on autolysis

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