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EMBO J. 2007 May 16;26(10):2527-39. Epub 2007 Apr 19.

Functional and physical interaction between Bcl-X(L) and a BH3-like domain in Beclin-1.

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INSERM U848, Villejuif, France.


The anti-apoptotic proteins Bcl-2 and Bcl-X(L) bind and inhibit Beclin-1, an essential mediator of autophagy. Here, we demonstrate that this interaction involves a BH3 domain within Beclin-1 (residues 114-123). The physical interaction between Beclin-1 and Bcl-X(L) is lost when the BH3 domain of Beclin-1 or the BH3 receptor domain of Bcl-X(L) is mutated. Mutation of the BH3 domain of Beclin-1 or of the BH3 receptor domain of Bcl-X(L) abolishes the Bcl-X(L)-mediated inhibition of autophagy triggered by Beclin-1. The pharmacological BH3 mimetic ABT737 competitively inhibits the interaction between Beclin-1 and Bcl-2/Bcl-X(L), antagonizes autophagy inhibition by Bcl-2/Bcl-X(L) and hence stimulates autophagy. Knockout or knockdown of the BH3-only protein Bad reduces starvation-induced autophagy, whereas Bad overexpression induces autophagy in human cells. Gain-of-function mutation of the sole BH3-only protein from Caenorhabditis elegans, EGL-1, induces autophagy, while deletion of EGL-1 compromises starvation-induced autophagy. These results reveal a novel autophagy-stimulatory function of BH3-only proteins beyond their established role as apoptosis inducers. BH3-only proteins and pharmacological BH3 mimetics induce autophagy by competitively disrupting the interaction between Beclin-1 and Bcl-2 or Bcl-X(L).

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