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Mol Cell. 2005 Feb 18;17(4):525-35.

BH3 domains of BH3-only proteins differentially regulate Bax-mediated mitochondrial membrane permeabilization both directly and indirectly.

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La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology, 10355 Science Center Drive, San Diego, CA 92121, USA.


Using a Bax-dependent membrane-permeabilization assay, we show that peptides corresponding to the BH3 domains of Bcl-2 family "BH3-only" proteins have dual functions. Several BH3 peptides relieved the inhibition of Bax caused by the antiapoptotic Bcl-x(L) and/or Mcl-1 proteins, some displaying a specificity for either Bcl-x(L) or Mcl-1. Besides having this derepression function, the Bid and Bim peptides activated Bax directly and were the only BH3 peptides tested that could potently induce cytochrome c release from mitochondria in cultured cells. Furthermore, Bax activator molecules (cleaved Bid protein and the Bim BH3 peptide) synergistically induced cytochrome c release when introduced into cells along with derepressor BH3 peptides. These observations support a unified model of BH3 domain function, encompassing both positive and negative regulation of other Bcl-2 family members. In this model, the simple inhibition of antiapoptotic functions is insufficient to induce apoptosis unless a direct activator of Bax or Bak is present.

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