The C-terminal domains of apoptotic BH3-only proteins mediate their insertion into distinct biological membranes

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Changes in the equilibrium of pro- and anti-apoptotic members of the B-cell lymphoma-2 (Bcl-2) protein family in the mitochondrial outer membrane (MOM) induce structural changes that commit cells to apoptosis. Bcl-2 homology-3 (BH3)-only proteins participate in this process by either activating pro-apoptotic effectors or inhibiting anti-apoptotic components and by promoting MOM permeabilization. The association of BH3-only proteins with MOMs is necessary for the activation and amplification of death signals; however, the nature of this association remains controversial, as these proteins lack a canonical transmembrane sequence. Here we used an in vitro expression system to study the insertion capacity of hydrophobic C-terminal regions of the BH3-only proteins Bik, Bim, Noxa, Bmf, and Puma into microsomal membranes. An Escherichia coli complementation assay was used to validate the results in a cellular context, and peptide insertions were modeled using molecular dynamics simulations. We also found that some of the C-terminal domains were sufficient to direct green fluorescent protein fusion proteins to specific membranes in human cells, but the domains did not activate apoptosis. Thus, the hydrophobic regions in the C termini of BH3-only members associated in distinct ways with various biological membranes, suggesting that a detailed investigation of the entire process of apoptosis should include studying the membranes as a setting for protein-protein and protein-membrane interactions.




Andreu-Fernández, V., García-Murria, M. J., Bañó-Polo, M., Martin, J., Monticelli, L., Orzáez, M., & Mingarro, I. (2016). The C-terminal domains of apoptotic BH3-only proteins mediate their insertion into distinct biological membranes. Journal of Biological Chemistry, 291(48), 25207–25216.

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