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Biochemistry. 2002 Jul 30;41(30):9485-95.

Peptides derived from BH3 domains of Bcl-2 family members: a comparative analysis of inhibition of Bcl-2, Bcl-x(L) and Bax oligomerization, induction of cytochrome c release, and activation of cell death.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, BST E1055, 211 Lothrop Street, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213-2582, USA.


Overexpression of Bcl-2, an anti-apoptotic oncoprotein, is commonly observed in a variety of human malignancies and is associated with resistance to chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Although the precise mechanism of Bcl-2 action remains elusive, current evidence indicates that Bcl-2 inhibits apoptosis by binding and inhibiting pro-apoptotic molecules such as Bax. Therefore, agents that disrupt the ability of Bcl-2, or other anti-apoptotic molecules, to bind to pro-apoptotic molecules may have therapeutic value. Several studies have shown that the BH3 domains of Bcl-2 and Bax are critically important for Bax/Bcl-2 heterodimerization. In this report, we designed and synthesized peptides based on the BH3 domains of three distinct Bcl-2 family members, Bcl-2, Bax and Bad. In vitro interaction assays were used to compare the abilities of the different peptides to inhibit Bax/Bcl-2 and Bax/Bcl-x(L) heterodimerization, as well as Bcl-2 and Bax homodimerization. Bax BH3 peptide (20-amino acids) potently inhibited both Bax/Bcl-2 and Bax/Bcl-x(L) interactions, exhibiting IC(50) values of 15 and 9.5 microM, respectively. The Bad BH3 peptide (21 amino acids) was slightly more potent than Bax BH3 at inhibiting Bax/Bcl-x(L) but failed to disrupt Bax/Bcl-2. Bcl-2 BH3 peptide (20-amino acids) was inactive toward Bax/Bcl-2 and had only a weak inhibitory effect on Bax/Bcl-x(L) heterodimerization. All three BH3 peptides failed to significantly inhibit homodimerization of Bcl-2 or Bax. Consistent with its ability to disrupt Bax/Bcl-2 heterodimerization, Bax BH3 peptide was able to overcome Bcl-2 overexpression and induce cytochrome c release from mitochondria of Bcl-2-overexpressing Jurkat T leukemic cells. Bad BH3 peptide, while potently inducing cytochrome c release in wild-type Jurkat cells, only partially overcame the effects of Bcl-2 overexpression. Bcl-2 BH3 failed to induce cytochrome c release, even in wild-type cells. Delivery of the Bax BH3 and Bad BH3 peptides into wild-type Jurkat cells induced comparable levels of cell death. In cells overexpressing Bcl-2, the potency of Bax BH3 peptide was similar to that seen in wild-type cells, while the efficacy of Bad BH3 peptide was reduced. By contrast, in Bcl-x(L)-overexpressing cells, Bad BH3 exhibited greater cell-killing activity than Bax BH3. The Bcl-2 BH3 peptide and a mutant Bax BH3 peptide had no appreciable effect on Jurkat cells. Together, our data suggest that agents based on the Bax BH3 domain may have therapeutic value in cancers overexpressing Bcl-2, while agents based on the BH3 domain of Bad may be more useful for tumors overexpressing Bcl-x(L).

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