Apoptosis research has recently experienced a change from a paradigm in which the nucleus determined the apoptotic process to a paradigm in which caspases and, more recently, mitochondria constitute the center of death control. Mitochondria undergo major changes in membrane integrity before classical signs of cell death become manifest. These changes concern both the inner and the outer mitochondrial membranes, leading to the dissipation of the inner transmembrane potential (DeltaPsi(m)) and/or the release of intermembrane proteins through the outer membrane. An ever-increasing number of endogenous, viral, or xenogeneic effectors directly act on mitochondria to trigger permeabilization. At least in some cases, this is achieved by a direct action on the permeability transition pore complex (PTPC), a multiprotein ensemble containing proteins from both mitochondrial membranes, which interact with pro- and antiapoptotic members of the Bcl-2 family. At present, it is elusive whether opening of the PTPC is the only physiological mechanism leading to mitochondrial membrane permeabilization. Proteins released from mitochondria during apoptosis include caspases (mainly caspases 2, 3, and 9), caspase activators (cytochrome c, hsp 10), as well as a caspase-independent death effector, AIF (apoptosis inducing factor). The functional hierarchy among these proteins and their actual impact on the decision between death and life is elusive.
Copyright 2000 Academic Press.