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J Biol Chem. 1995 May 19;270(20):11962-9.

Structure-function analysis of Bcl-2 protein. Identification of conserved domains important for homodimerization with Bcl-2 and heterodimerization with Bax.

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La Jolla Cancer Research Foundation, Oncogene and Tumor Suppressor Gene Program, California 92037, USA.


The Bcl-2 protein is a suppressor of programmed cell death that homodimerizes with itself and forms heterodimers with a homologous protein Bax, a promoter of cell death. Expression of Bax in Saccharomyces cerevisiae as a membrane-bound fusion protein results in a lethal phenotype that is suppressible by co-expression of Bcl-2. Functional analysis of deletion mutants of human Bcl-2 in yeast demonstrated the presence of at least three conserved domains that are required to suppress Bax-mediated cytotoxicity, termed domains A (amino acids 11-33), B (amino acids 138-154), and C (amino acids 188-196). In vitro binding experiments using GST-Bcl-2 fusion proteins demonstrated that Bcl-2(delta B) and Bcl-2(delta C) deletion mutants had a markedly impaired ability to heterodimerize with Bax but retained the ability to homodimerize with wild-type Bcl-2. In contrast, Bcl-2(delta A) and an NH2-terminal deletion mutant Bcl-2(delta 1-82) retained Bax binding activity in vitro but failed to suppress Bax-mediated cytotoxicity in yeast. Sequences downstream of domain C in the region 197-218 also were shown to be required for Bax-binding in vitro and anti-death function in yeast. Analysis of Bcl-2/Bcl-2 homodimerization using both in vitro binding assays as well as a yeast two-hybrid method provided evidence in support of a head-to-tail model for Bcl-2/Bcl-2 homodimerization and revealed that sequences within the NH2-terminal A domain interact with a structure that requires the presence of both the carboxyl B and C domains in combination. In addition to further delineating structural features within Bcl-2 that are required for homo-dimerization, the findings reported here support the hypothesis that Bcl-2 promotes cell survival by binding directly to Bax but suggest that ability to bind Bax can be insufficient for anti-cell death function.

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