• Authors: Weber, K., Harper, N., Schwabe, J., Cohen, G. M.
  • Year: 2013
  • Journal: Cell Rep
  • Applications: in vitro / DNA / jetPRIME
  • Cell type: MEF
    Description: Murine embryonic fibroblast cells 


BAK activation represents a key step during apoptosis, but how it converts into a mitochondria-permeabilizing pore remains unclear. By further delineating the structural rearrangements involved, we reveal that BAK activation progresses through a series of independent steps: BH3-domain exposure, N-terminal change, oligomerization, and membrane insertion. Employing a "BCL-XL-addiction" model, we show that neutralization of BCL-XL by the BH3 mimetic ABT-737 resulted in death only when cells were reconstituted with BCL-XL:BAK, but not BCL-2/ BCL-XL:BIM complexes. Although this resembles the indirect model, release of BAK from BCL-XL did not result in spontaneous adoption of the pore conformation. Commitment to apoptosis required association of the direct activator BIM with oligomeric BAK promoting its conversion to a membrane-inserted pore. The sequential nature of this cascade provides multiple opportunities for other BCL-2 proteins to interfere with or promote BAK activation and unites aspects of the indirect and direct activation models.