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BH3-only proteins are tail-anchored in the outer mitochondrial membrane and can initiate the activation of Bax

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Wilfling, F., Weber, A., Potthoff, S., Vögtle, F.-N., Meisinger, C., Paschen, S. A., et al. (2012). BH3-only proteins are tail-anchored in the outer mitochondrial membrane and can initiate the activation of Bax. Cell Death and Differentiation, 19(8), 1328-1336. doi:10.1038/cdd.2012.9.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0007-630D-C
During mitochondrial apoptosis, pro-apoptotic BH3-only proteins cause the translocation of cytosolic Bcl-2-associated X protein (Bax) to the outer mitochondrial membrane (OMM) where it is activated to release cytochrome c from the mitochondrial intermembrane space, but the mechanism is under dispute. We show that most BH3-only proteins are mitochondrial proteins that are imported into the OMM via a C-terminal tail-anchor domain in isolated yeast mitochondria, independently of binding to anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 proteins. This C-terminal domain acted as a classical mitochondrial targeting signal and was sufficient to direct green fluorescent protein to mitochondria in human cells. When expressed in mouse fibroblasts, these BH3-only proteins localised to mitochondria and were inserted in the OMM. The BH3-only proteins Bcl-2-interacting mediator of cell death (Bim), tBid and p53-upregulated modulator of apoptosis sensitised isolated mitochondria from Bax/Bcl-2 homologous antagonist/killer-deficient fibroblasts to cytochrome c-release by recombinant, extramitochondrial Bax. For Bim, this activity is shown to require the C-terminal-targeting signal and to be independent of binding capacity to and presence of anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 proteins. Bim further enhanced Bax-dependent killing in yeast. A model is proposed where OMM-tail-anchored BH3-only proteins permit passive ‘recruitment’ and catalysis-like activation of extra-mitochondrial Bax. The recognition of C-terminal membrane-insertion of BH3-only proteins will permit the development of a more detailed concept of the initiation of mitochondrial apoptosis.