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Mol Cell. 2011 Nov 18;44(4):517-31. doi: 10.1016/j.molcel.2011.10.001. Epub 2011 Oct 27.

A unified model of mammalian BCL-2 protein family interactions at the mitochondria.

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Department of Immunology, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Memphis, TN 38105, USA.


During apoptosis, the BCL-2 protein family controls mitochondrial outer membrane permeabilization (MOMP), but the dynamics of this regulation remain controversial. We employed chimeric proteins composed of exogenous BH3 domains inserted into a tBID backbone that can activate the proapoptotic effectors BAX and BAK to permeabilize membranes without being universally sequestered by all antiapoptotic BCL-2 proteins. We thus identified two "modes" whereby prosurvival BCL-2 proteins can block MOMP, by sequestering direct-activator BH3-only proteins ("MODE 1") or by binding active BAX and BAK ("MODE 2"). Notably, we found that MODE 1 sequestration is less efficient and more easily derepressed to promote MOMP than MODE 2. Further, MODE 2 sequestration prevents mitochondrial fusion. We provide a unified model of BCL-2 family function that helps to explain otherwise paradoxical observations relating to MOMP, apoptosis, and mitochondrial dynamics.

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