DRP-1 functions independently of mitochondrial structural perturbations to facilitate BH3 mimetic-mediated apoptosis

Mateus Milani, Alison J. Beckett, Aoula Al-Zebeeby, Xu Luo, Ian A. Prior, Gerald M. Cohen, Shankar Varadarajan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Maintenance of mitochondrial integrity is critical for normal cellular homoeostasis. Most cells respond to stress stimuli and undergo apoptosis by perturbing mitochondrial structure and function to release proteins, such as cytochrome c, which are essential for the execution of the intrinsic apoptotic cascade. Cancer cells evade these events by overexpressing the anti-apoptotic BCL-2 family of proteins on mitochondrial membranes. Inhibitors of the anti-apoptotic BCL-2 family proteins, also known as BH3 mimetics, antagonise the pro-survival functions of these proteins and result in rapid apoptosis. Although the precise mechanism by which BH3 mimetics induce apoptosis has been well characterised, not much is known in terms of the structural changes that occur in mitochondria during apoptosis. Using a panel of highly selective BH3 mimetics and a wide range of cell lines, we demonstrate that BH3 mimetics induce extensive mitochondrial fission, accompanied by swelling of the mitochondrial matrix and rupture of the outer mitochondrial membrane. These changes occur in a BAX/ BAK-dependent manner. Although a major mitochondrial fission GTPase, DRP-1, has been implicated in mitochondrial apoptosis, our data demonstrate that DRP-1 might function independently/downstream of BH3 mimetic-mediated mitochondrial fission to facilitate the release of cytochrome c and apoptosis. Moreover, downregulation of DRP-1 prevented cytochrome c release and apoptosis even when OPA1, a protein mediating mitochondrial fusion, was silenced. Although BH3 mimetic-mediated displacement of BAK and other BH3-only proteins from BCL-XL and MCL-1 was unaffected by DRP-1 downregulation, it prevented BAK activation significantly, thus placing DRP-1 as one of the most critical players, along with BAX and BAK, that governs BH3 mimetic-mediated cytochrome c release and apoptosis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number117
JournalCell Death Discovery
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Cell Biology
  • Cancer Research


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