Distinct BH3 domains either sensitize or activate mitochondrial apoptosis, serving as prototype cancer therapeutics

Cancer Cell. 2002 Sep;2(3):183-92. doi: 10.1016/s1535-6108(02)00127-7.


The "BH3-only" proteins of the BCL-2 family require "multidomain" proapoptotic members BAX and BAK to release cytochrome c from mitochondria and kill cells. We find short peptides representing the alpha-helical BH3 domains of BID or BIM are capable of inducing oligomerization of BAK and BAX to release cytochrome c. Another subset characterized by the BH3 peptides from BAD and BIK cannot directly activate BAX, BAK but instead binds antiapoptotic BCL-2, resulting in the displacement of BID-like BH3 domains that initiate mitochondrial dysfunction. Transduced BAD-like and BID-like BH3 peptides also displayed synergy in killing leukemic cells. These data support a two-class model for BH3 domains: BID-like domains that "activate" BAX, BAK and BAD-like domains that "sensitize" by occupying the pocket of antiapoptotic members.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / physiology*
  • Apoptosis Regulatory Proteins
  • BH3 Interacting Domain Death Agonist Protein
  • Bcl-2-Like Protein 11
  • Carrier Proteins / chemistry
  • Carrier Proteins / metabolism
  • Cytochrome c Group / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Jurkat Cells
  • Membrane Proteins / chemistry
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mitochondria / pathology*
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / chemistry
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / metabolism
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / chemistry
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / metabolism*
  • Transduction, Genetic
  • bcl-2 Homologous Antagonist-Killer Protein
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein


  • Apoptosis Regulatory Proteins
  • BAK1 protein, human
  • BAX protein, human
  • BCL2L11 protein, human
  • BH3 Interacting Domain Death Agonist Protein
  • BID protein, human
  • Bak1 protein, mouse
  • Bax protein, mouse
  • Bcl-2-Like Protein 11
  • Bcl2l11 protein, mouse
  • Bid protein, mouse
  • Carrier Proteins
  • Cytochrome c Group
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • bcl-2 Homologous Antagonist-Killer Protein
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein