Bcl-2 family interaction with the mitochondrial morphogenesis machinery

M. M. Cleland, K. L. Norris, M. Karbowski, C. Wang, D. F. Suen, S. Jiao, N. M. George, X. Luo, Z. Li, R. J. Youle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

91 Scopus citations


The regulation of both mitochondrial dynamics and apoptosis is key for maintaining the health of a cell. Bcl-2 family proteins, central in apoptosis regulation, also have roles in the maintenance of the mitochondrial network. Here we report that Bax and Bak participate in the regulation of mitochondrial fusion in mouse embryonic fibroblasts, primary mouse neurons and human colon carcinoma cells. To assess how Bcl-2 family members may regulate mitochondrial morphogenesis, we determined the binding of a series of chimeras between Bcl-xL and Bax to the mitofusins, mitofusin 1 (Mfn1) and mitofusin 2 (Mfn2). One chimera (containing helix 5 (H5) of Bax replacing H5 of Bcl-xL (Bcl-xL/Bax H5)) co-immunoprecipitated with Mfn1 and Mfn2 significantly better than either wild-type Bax or Bcl-xL. Expression of Bcl-xL/Bax H5 in cells reduced the mobility of Mfn1 and Mfn2 and colocalized with ectopic Mfn1 and Mfn2, as well as endogenous Mfn2 to a greater extent than wild-type Bax. Ultimately, Bcl-xL/Bax H5 induced substantial mitochondrial fragmentation in healthy cells. Therefore, we propose that Bcl-xL/Bax H5 disturbs mitochondrial morphology by binding and inhibiting Mfn1 and Mfn2 activity, supporting the hypothesis that Bcl-2 family members have the capacity to regulate mitochondrial morphology through binding to the mitofusins in healthy cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)235-247
Number of pages13
JournalCell Death and Differentiation
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2011


  • Bak
  • Bax
  • Mfn2
  • apoptosis
  • mitochondria fusion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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