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Biochim Biophys Acta. 2004 Dec 6;1659(2-3):178-89.

Viral proteins targeting mitochondria: controlling cell death.

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Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, UMR 8125, Institut Gustave Roussy, Pavillon de Recherche 1, 39 rue Camille-Desmoulins, F-94805 Villejuif, France.


Mitochondrial membrane permeabilization (MMP) is a critical step regulating apoptosis. Viruses have evolved multiple strategies to modulate apoptosis for their own benefit. Thus, many viruses code for proteins that act on mitochondria and control apoptosis of infected cells. Viral proapoptotic proteins translocate to mitochondrial membranes and induce MMP, which is often accompanied by mitochondrial swelling and fragmentation. From a structural point of view, all the viral proapoptotic proteins discovered so far contain amphipathic alpha-helices that are necessary for the proapoptotic effects and seem to have pore-forming properties, as it has been shown for Vpr from human immunodeficiency virus-1 (HIV-1) and HBx from hepatitis B virus (HBV). In contrast, antiapoptotic viral proteins (e.g., M11L from myxoma virus, F1L from vaccinia virus and BHRF1 from Epstein-Barr virus) contain mitochondrial targeting sequences (MTS) in their C-terminus that are homologous to tail-anchoring domains. These domains are similar to those present in many proteins of the Bcl-2 family and are responsible for inserting the protein in the outer mitochondrial membrane leaving the N-terminus of the protein facing the cytosol. The antiapoptotic proteins K7 and K15 from avian encephalomyelitis virus (AEV) and viral mitochondria inhibitor of apoptosis (vMIA) from cytomegalovirus are capable of binding host-specific apoptosis-modulatory proteins such as Bax, Bcl-2, activated caspase 3, CAML, CIDE-B and HAX. In conclusion, viruses modulate apoptosis at the mitochondrial level by multiple different strategies.

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