Bax, reactive oxygen, and cytochrome c release in neuronal apoptosis

Antioxid Redox Signal. 2003 Oct;5(5):589-96. doi: 10.1089/152308603770310257.


Half of all neurons produced during embryogenesis undergo apoptotic death shortly before birth or soon thereafter. Two cell culture models have been used extensively to investigate the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying apoptosis during neuronal development: (a) sympathetic neurons deprived of their required neurotrophic factor, nerve growth factor, and (b) cerebellar granule neurons deprived of serum in low-potassium medium. A dramatic increase in mitochondrial-derived reactive oxygen species (ROS) occurs during the apoptotic death of both of these cell types. These ROS lie downstream from the proapoptotic protein, Bax. Bax normally resides in the cytoplasm, but translocates to the outer mitochondrial membrane during apoptosis. Once associated with mitochondria, Bax causes release of apoptogenic factors from the mitochondria into the cytoplasm, thus inducing or augmenting the apoptotic cascade. Although there is much controversy about the exact mechanism by which Bax causes release of these factors, recent evidence suggests that the Bax-induced ROS are critical for this release to occur in both sympathetic and cerebellar granule neurons. Because Bax is critical for the apoptotic death of many other types of neurons, it is likely that increased ROS is important for the death of these cells as well.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / physiology*
  • Caspases / pharmacology
  • Caspases / physiology
  • Cytochromes c / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • JNK Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases
  • MAP Kinase Kinase Kinases / physiology
  • Mitochondria / drug effects
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / physiology
  • Models, Biological
  • Nerve Growth Factor / physiology*
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / physiology*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism*
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein


  • BAX protein, human
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein
  • Cytochromes c
  • Nerve Growth Factor
  • JNK Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases
  • MAP Kinase Kinase Kinases
  • Caspases