The role of mitochondria in apoptosis*

Annu Rev Genet. 2009:43:95-118. doi: 10.1146/annurev-genet-102108-134850.


Mitochondria play key roles in activating apoptosis in mammalian cells. Bcl-2 family members regulate the release of proteins from the space between the mitochondrial inner and outer membrane that, once in the cytosol, activate caspase proteases that dismantle cells and signal efficient phagocytosis of cell corpses. Here we review the extensive literature on proteins released from the intermembrane space and consider genetic evidence for and against their roles in apoptosis activation. We also compare and contrast apoptosis pathways in Caenorhabditis elegans, Drosophila melanogaster, and mammals that indicate major mysteries remaining to be solved.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / cytology
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / metabolism
  • Drosophila melanogaster / cytology
  • Drosophila melanogaster / metabolism
  • Mammals / metabolism
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Mitochondrial Membranes / metabolism
  • Mitochondrial Proteins / metabolism
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / metabolism


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