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Genes Dev. 2001 Jun 15;15(12):1481-6.

BH3-only proteins that bind pro-survival Bcl-2 family members fail to induce apoptosis in the absence of Bax and Bak.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, Abramson Family Cancer Research Institute, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.


The BH3-only proteins Bim and Bad bind to the antiapoptotic Bcl-2 proteins and induce apoptosis in wild-type cells and cells from either bax(-/-) or bak(-/-) animals. In contrast, constitutively active forms of Bim and Bad failed to induce apoptosis in bax(-/-)bak(-/-) cells. Expression of Bax restored susceptibility of the cells to Bim and Bad. In addition, Bax but not Bim or Bad sensitized the bax(-/-)bak(-/-) cells to a wide variety of cell death stimuli including UV irradiation, chemotherapeutic agents, and ER stress. These results suggest that neither activation of BH3-only proteins nor suppression of pro-survival Bcl-2 proteins is sufficient to kill cells in the absence of both Bax and Bak. Furthermore, whereas mouse embryo fibroblasts (MEF) expressing only Bax or Bak displayed resistance to transformation, bax(-/-)bak(-/-) MEF were nearly as prone to oncogenic transformation as p53(-/-) MEF. Thus, the function of either Bax or Bak appears required to initiate most forms of apoptosis and to suppress oncogenic transformation.

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