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EMBO J. 2003 Jul 15;22(14):3580-90.

Induction of cell death by the BH3-only Bcl-2 homolog Nbk/Bik is mediated by an entirely Bax-dependent mitochondrial pathway.

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  • 1Department of Hematology, Charité-Campus Berlin-Buch, Humboldt University, D-13125 Berlin-Buch, Germany.


Nbk/Bik (natural born killer/Bcl-2-interacting killer) is a tissue-specific BH3-only protein whose molecular function is still largely unknown. To investigate the mechanism of Nbk action, we established a single- vector adenoviral system based on the Tet-off conditional expression of Nbk. Upon Nbk expression, only Bax-positive, but not Bax-deficient cells were found to undergo apoptosis. Interestingly, Nbk failed to induce apoptosis in the absence of Bax, even despite expression of the related molecule Bak. Re-expression of Bax restored the sensitivity to Nbk. Similarly, Bax wild-type HCT116 cells were highly susceptible, whereas HCT116 Bax knock-out cells remained resistant to Nbk-induced apoptosis. In Bax-positive cells, Nbk induced a conformational switch in the Bax N-terminus coinciding with cytochrome c release, mitochondrial permeability transition and caspase-9 processing. Immunoprecipitation studies revealed that Nbk interacts with Bcl-x(L) and Bcl-2 but not with Bax. Since, in addition, Nbk did not localize to the mitochondria, our data suggest a model in which Nbk acts as an indirect killer to trigger Bax-dependent apoptosis, whereas Bak is not sufficient to confer sensitivity to Nbk.

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