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Curr Opin Cell Biol. 2006 Dec;18(6):685-9. Epub 2006 Oct 12.

How do Bax and Bak lead to permeabilization of the outer mitochondrial membrane?

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  • 1Biochemistry Section, Surgical Neurology Branch, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health, 35 Convent Drive MSC 3704, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.


Bcl-2 family members, like the structurally similar translocation domain of diphtheria toxin, can form ion-selective channels and larger-diameter pores in artificial lipid bilayers. Recent studies show how Bcl-2 family members change topology in membranes during apoptosis and that these different states may either promote or inhibit apoptosis. Binding of BH3-only proteins alters the subcellular localization and/or membrane topology and probably affects the channel formation of Bcl-2, Bcl-xL and Bcl-w. However, it remains unclear how the pore-forming activity functions in cells to regulate mitochondrial membrane permeabilization and cell death. Bcl-2 family members in flies and worms regulate apoptosis by mechanisms seemingly unrelated to membrane permeabilization, leaving a unifying model for the biochemical activity of this protein family unknown. Work linking Bcl-2 family members to mitochondrial morphogenesis in worms and mammals suggests some common functions of Bcl-2 family proteins may exist.

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