How BH3-only proteins activate Bax/Bak, the two gateway proteins of the mitochondria-dependent apoptotic pathway, remains incompletely understood. Although all pro-apoptotic BH3-only proteins are known to bind/neutralize the anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 proteins, the three most potent ones, Bid (tBid), Bim, and Puma, possess an additional activity of directly activating Bax/Bak in vitro. This latter activity has been proposed to be responsible for triggering Bax/Bak activation following apoptotic stimulation. To test this hypothesis, we generated Bid−/−Bim−/−Puma−/− (TKO), TKO/Bax−/−/Bak−/− (PentaKO), and PentaKO/Mcl-1−/− (HexaKO) HCT116 cells through gene editing. Surprisingly, although the TKO cells were resistant to several apoptotic stimuli, robust apoptosis was induced upon the simultaneous inactivation of Bcl-xL and Mcl-1, two anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 proteins known to suppress Bax/Bak activation and activity. Importantly, such apoptotic activity was completely abolished in the PentaKO cells. In addition, ABT-737, a BH3 mimetic that inhibits Bcl-xL/Bcl-w/Bcl-2, induced Bax activation in HexaKO cells reconstituted with endogenous level of GFP-Bax. Further, by generating TKO/p53−/− (QKO) cells, we demonstrated that p53, a tumor suppressor postulated to directly activate Bax, is not required for Bid/Bim/Puma-independent Bax/Bak activation. Together, these results strongly suggest that the direct activation activities of Bid (tBid), Bim, Puma, and p53 are not essential for activating Bax/Bak once the anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 proteins are neutralized.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
- Cell Biology
- Cancer Research