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Genes Dev. 2007 Aug 1;21(15):1937-48.

A three-helix homo-oligomerization domain containing BH3 and BH1 is responsible for the apoptotic activity of Bax.

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  • 1Eppley Institute for Research in Cancer and Allied Diseases, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, Nebraska 68198, USA.


Homo-oligomerization of Bax (or Bak) has been hypothesized to be responsible for cell death through the mitochondria-dependent apoptosis pathway. However, partly due to a lack of structural information on the Bax homo-oligomerization and apoptosis inducing domain(s), this hypothesis has remained difficult to test. In this study, we identified a three-helix unit, comprised of the BH3 (helix 2) and BH1 domains (helix 4 and helix 5), as the homo-oligomerization domain of Bax. When targeted to mitochondria, this minimum oligomerization unit induced apoptosis in Bax(-/-)Bak(-/-) mouse embryonic fibroblasts (DKO). Strikingly, the central helix of Bax (helix 5), when replacing the corresponding helix (helix 5) of Bcl-xL, an anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 family protein structurally homologous to Bax, converted Bcl-xL into a Bax-like molecule capable of forming oligomers and causing apoptosis in the DKO cells. Finally, a series of systematic mutagenesis analyses revealed that homo-oligomerization is both necessary and sufficient for the apoptotic activity of Bax. These results suggest that active Bax causes mitochondrial damage through homo-oligomers of a three-helix functional unit.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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