Subcellular redistribution of BAX during apoptosis induced by anticancer drugs

Anticancer Drugs. 2001 Aug;12(7):607-17. doi: 10.1097/00001813-200108000-00008.


BAX is the 192-amino acid, 21-kDa protein which is ubiquitously distributed in normal tissues and is regarded as a tumor suppressor sensitizing malignant cells to anticancer drugs. In spite of many studies, the molecular mechanism of BAX action is still obscure. In the present study subcellular BAX translocations in human colon adenocarcinoma COLO 205 cells exposed to various anticancer drugs [camptothecin (CPT), etoposide (ETO), staurosporine (STP), 2-chloro-2'-deoxyadenosine (2CdA) and nimesulide (NIM)] was examined. Cells were grown on coverslips under optimal conditions (10% FCS/DMEM) or were stimulated to apoptosis with the drugs examined. Laser scanning cytometry was applied for the quantitative analysis of BAX expression, and distribution in the cytoplasmic (BAX Cf) and nuclear (BAX Nf) area. BAX maximal pixel (BAX MP), the parameter corresponding to aggregation of BAX in the cell, was also measured. All examined drugs increased the number of cells with high BAX MP, reaching the peak at 60 min after drug administration. The most pronounced effect was in the case of 2CdA, CPT and STP. The increase in BAX MP was observed only when antibody recognizing the 43-61 amino acid sequence was used. When antibody binding the N-terminal epitope (11-30 amino acid sequence) was applied, the number of cells expressing high BAX MP significantly decreased. These results indicate that apoptotic stimuli delivered by anticancer drugs led to aggregation of BAX in cancer cells, which is dependent on BAX activation by its cleavage at the N-terminal epitope and exposure of the BH3 domain. It was shown that BAX Nf increased in cells treated with CPT, STP, ETO, 2CdA and NIM, whereas BAX Cf rose after STP and NIM. The increase in BAX Nf and, occurring in most treatments, the increase in the BAX Nf:Cf ratio indicates a BAX shift from the cytoplasm to the nucleus. Furthermore, staining with different antibodies showed that only the activated form of BAX was translocated to the nucleus. Immunoelectron microscopy revealed that CPT-induced apoptosis was associated with translocation of BAX from the cytosol to organellar membranes (mitochondrial, Golgi apparatus and endoplasmic reticulum) and via nuclear envelope pores to the nucleus, occurring within 60-180 min of cell exposure to the drug. The subcellular translocations of BAX preceded in time the appearance of morphological symptoms of apoptosis. In conclusion, (i) in spite of different molecular mechanisms of apoptosis induction by the anticancer drugs examined, BAX remains a common link in the chain of reactions leading to cell death, and (ii) BAX activation and subcellular translocations from the cytosol to organellar membranes and nucleus are key cellular responses to drugs bearing proapoptotic properties.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma / drug therapy
  • Adenocarcinoma / metabolism*
  • Adenocarcinoma / pathology
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Blotting, Western
  • Colonic Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Colonic Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Colonic Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cyclooxygenase 2
  • Golgi Apparatus / metabolism
  • Golgi Apparatus / ultrastructure
  • Humans
  • Isoenzymes / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Microscopy, Immunoelectron
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Mitochondria / ultrastructure
  • Nuclear Envelope / metabolism
  • Nuclear Envelope / ultrastructure
  • Prostaglandin-Endoperoxide Synthases
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / metabolism*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / metabolism*
  • Topoisomerase I Inhibitors
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured / drug effects
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured / metabolism*
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured / pathology
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • BAX protein, human
  • Isoenzymes
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • Topoisomerase I Inhibitors
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein
  • Cyclooxygenase 2
  • PTGS2 protein, human
  • Prostaglandin-Endoperoxide Synthases