Bcl-2-family proteins and the role of mitochondria in apoptosis

Curr Opin Cell Biol. 2003 Dec;15(6):691-9. doi: 10.1016/j.ceb.2003.10.004.


Mitochondria are central to many forms of cell death, usually via the release of pro-apoptotic proteins from the mitochondrial intermembrane space. Some intermembrane space proteins, including cytochrome c, Smac/DIABLO, and Omi/Htra2, can induce or enhance caspase activation, whereas others, such as AIF and endonuclease G, might act in a caspase-independent manner. Intermembrane space protein release is often regulated by Bcl-2-family proteins. Recent evidence suggests that pro-apoptotic members of this family, by themselves, can permeabilize the outer mitochondrial membrane without otherwise damaging mitochondria. Mitochondria can contribute to cell death in other ways. For example, they can respond to calcium release from the endoplasmic reticulum by undergoing the mitochondrial permeability transition, which in turn causes outer membrane rupture and the release of intermembrane space proteins. Bcl-2-family proteins can influence the levels of releasable Ca(2+) in the endoplasmic reticulum, and thus determine whether the released Ca(2+) is sufficient to overload mitochondria and induce cell death.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis*
  • Calcium / chemistry
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Membrane Potentials
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Mitochondria / pathology
  • Permeability
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / metabolism
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction


  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • Calcium