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J Neurosci. 1999 Sep 1;19(17):7476-85.

BAX translocation is a critical event in neuronal apoptosis: regulation by neuroprotectants, BCL-2, and caspases.

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  • 1Departments of Neurology and Molecular Biology and Pharmacology, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri 63110, USA.


Members of the BCL-2 family of proteins either promote or repress programmed cell death. Here we report that neonatal sympathetic neurons undergoing apoptosis after nerve growth factor (NGF) deprivation exhibited a protein synthesis-dependent, caspase-independent subcellular redistribution of BAX from cytosol to mitochondria, followed by a loss of mitochondrial cytochrome c and cell death. Treatment with elevated concentrations of the neuroprotectants KCl or cAMP at the time of deprivation prevented BAX translocation and cytochrome c release. However, administration of KCl or cAMP 12 hr after NGF withdrawal acutely prevented loss of mitochondrial cytochrome c, but not redistribution of BAX; rescue with NGF acutely prevented both events. Overexpression of Bcl-2 neither altered the normal subcellular localization of BAX nor prevented its redistribution with deprivation but did inhibit the subsequent release of cytochrome c, caspase activation, and cell death. Bcl-2 overexpression did not prevent cell death induced by cytoplasmic microinjection of cytochrome c into NGF-deprived competent-to-die neurons. These observations suggest that the subcellular redistribution of BAX is a critical event in neuronal apoptosis induced by trophic factor deprivation. BCL-2 acts primarily, if not exclusively, at the level of mitochondria to prevent BAX-mediated cytochrome c release, whereas NGF, KCl, or cAMP may abort the apoptotic program at multiple checkpoints.

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