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Cell Death Differ. 2008 May;15(5):929-37. doi: 10.1038/cdd.2008.9.

Contributions to Bax insertion and oligomerization of lipids of the mitochondrial outer membrane.

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Department of Cell Biology, University of Geneva, 30 quai Ernest-Ansermet, Geneva, Switzerland.


Under many apoptotic conditions, Bax undergoes conformational rearrangements, leading to its insertion in the mitochondrial outer membrane as a transmembrane oligomer. At the same time, mitochondria undergo fragmentation and activated Bax was reported to localize to fission sites. We studied how lipid composition and membrane curvature regulate Bax activation. When isolated mitochondria were incubated with phospholipase A2, which led to phosphatidylethanolamine and cardiolipin hydrolysis, tBid and Bax insertion were hindered. We thus studied in liposomes how phosphatidylethanolamine, cardiolipin, and its hydrolysis products affect Bax activation. Whereas phosphatidylethanolamine, a lipid with negative curvature, did not affect Bax insertion, it inhibited Bax oligomerization. Conversely, Bax insertion required cardiolipin, and was not blocked by cardiolipin hydrolysis products. These experiments support a direct role for cardiolipin in the recruitment and activation of Bax. To examine if the increase in membrane curvature that accompanies mitochondrial fission participates in Bax activation, we studied how liposome size affects the process, and observed that it was inhibited in small liposomes (<or=200 nm diameter). Therefore, the localization of Bax to mitochondrial scission sites does not result from a preference for curved bilayers. Our experiments show that membrane properties can control the process of Bax activation, providing an additional level to the mechanisms of regulation of mitochondrial permeability.

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