Bax and other pro-apoptotic Bcl-2 family "killer-proteins" and their victim the mitochondrion

Cell Tissue Res. 2001 Dec;306(3):347-61. doi: 10.1007/s00441-001-0472-0. Epub 2001 Oct 30.


Two major intracellular apoptosis signaling cascades have been characterized, the mitochondrial pathway and the death receptor pathway. The mitochondrial pathway is regulated by members of the Bcl-2 protein family. The members of this family can be subdivided into anti- and pro-apoptotic proteins. The pro-apoptotic members are further divided into two groups, the multidomain and the 'BH3 domain only' proteins. When cells are exposed to apoptotic stimulation, pro-apoptotic proteins are activated through post-translational modifications or changes in their conformation. The main site of action of the multidomain proteins are the mitochondria, where these proteins induce permeabilization of the outer membrane resulting in the release of proteins, including cytochrome c, from the intermembrane space. In the cytosol cytochrome c activates caspase cascades ultimately leading to cell death. Mounting evidence indicates that apoptosis is involved in a wide range of pathological conditions. Recent studies suggest that the mitochondrial signaling pathway is involved in several diseases. Although, so far, with the exception of C. elegans, most studies on apoptosis have been performed in mammalian systems, recently homologues to the Bcl-2 family members, including pro-apoptotic members, have been identified in Drosophila and zebrafish. Here the structure and function of the various pro-apoptotic Bcl-2 family members, their effects on mitochondria, and their involvement in diseases are discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Mitochondria / physiology*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / physiology*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / physiology*
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein


  • BAX protein, human
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein