Mitochondrial membrane permeabilization is a critical event in the process leading to physiological or chemotherapy-induced apoptosis. This permeabilization event is at least in part under the control of the permeability transition pore complex (PTPC), which interacts with oncoproteins from the Bcl-2 family as well as with tumor suppressor proteins from the Bax family, which inhibit or facilitate membrane permeabilization, respectively. Here we show that thiol crosslinking agents including diazenedicarboxylic acid bis 5N, N-dimethylamide (diamide), dithiodipyridine (DTDP), or bis-maleimido-hexane (BMH) can act on the adenine nucleotide translocator (ANT), one of the proteins within the PTPC. ANT alone reconstituted into artificial lipid bilayers suffices to confer a membrane permeabilization response to thiol crosslinking agents. Diamide, DTDP, and BMH but not tert-butylhydroperoxide or arsenite cause the oxidation of a critical cysteine residue (Cys 56) of ANT. Thiol modification within ANT is observed in intact cells, isolated mitochondria, and purified ANT. Recombinant Bcl-2 fails to prevent thiol modification of ANT. Concomitantly, a series of different thiol crosslinking agents (diamide, DTDP, and BMH, phenylarsine oxide) but not tert-butylhydroperoxide or arsenite induce mitochondrial membrane permeabilization and cell death irrespective of the expression level of Bcl-2. These data indicate that thiol crosslinkers cause a covalent modification of ANT which, beyond any control by Bcl-2, leads to mitochondrial membrane permeabilization and cell death.
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