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Senft, D.; Weber, A.; Saathoff, F.; Berking, C.; Heppt, M. V.; Kammerbauer, C.; Rothenfusser, S.; Kellner, S.; Kurgyis, Z.; Besch, R. and Häcker, G. (2015): In non-transformed cells Bak activates upon loss of anti-apoptotic Bcl-X-L and Mcl-1 but in the absence of active BH3-only proteins. In: Cell Death & Disease, Vol. 6, e1996 [PDF, 1MB]

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Mitochondrial apoptosis is controlled by proteins of the B-cell lymphoma 2 (Bcl-2) family. Pro-apoptotic members of this family, known as BH3-only proteins, initiate activation of the effectors Bcl-2-associated X protein (Bax) and Bcl-2 homologous antagonist/killer (Bak),which is counteracted by anti-apoptotic family members. How the interactions of Bcl-2 proteins regulate cell death is still not entirely clear. Here, we show that in the absence of extrinsic apoptotic stimuli Bak activates without detectable contribution from BH3-only proteins, and cell survival depends on anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 molecules. All anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 proteins were targeted via RNA interference alone or in combinations of two in primary human fibroblasts. Simultaneous targeting of B-cell lymphoma-extra large and myeloid cell leukemia sequence 1 led to apoptosis in several cell types. Apoptosis depended on Bak whereas Bax was dispensable. Activator BH3-only proteins were not required for apoptosis induction as apoptosis was unaltered in the absence of all BH3-only proteins known to activate Bax or Bak directly, Bcl-2-interacting mediator of cell death, BH3-interacting domain death agonist and p53-upregulated modulator of apoptosis. These findings argue for auto-activation of Bak in the absence of anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 proteins and provide evidence of profound differences in the activation of Bax and Bak.

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