Changes in mitochondrial surface charge mediate recruitment of signaling molecules during apoptosis

Am J Physiol Cell Physiol. 2011 Jan;300(1):C33-41. doi: 10.1152/ajpcell.00139.2010. Epub 2010 Oct 6.


Electrostatic interactions with negative lipids contribute to the subcellular localization of polycationic proteins. In situ measurements using cytosolic probes of surface charge indicate that normal mitochondria are not noticeably electronegative. However, during apoptosis mitochondria accrue negative charge and acquire the ability to attract cationic proteins, including K-Ras. The marked increase in the surface charge of mitochondria occurs early in apoptosis, preceding depolarization of their inner membrane, cytochrome c release, and flipping of phosphatidylserine across the plasmalemma. Using novel biosensors, we determined that the increased electronegativity of the mitochondria coincided with and was likely attributable to increased exposure of cardiolipin, which is dianionic. Ectopic (over)expression of cardiolipin-binding proteins precluded the increase in surface charge and inhibited apoptosis, implying that mitochondrial exposure of negatively charged lipids is required for progression of programmed cell death.

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis / physiology*
  • Cholestanols / pharmacology
  • Dibucaine / pharmacology
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Membrane Potential, Mitochondrial / physiology*
  • Mitochondria / drug effects
  • Mitochondria / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*
  • Sphingosine / pharmacology
  • Surface Properties


  • Cholestanols
  • squalamine
  • Dibucaine
  • Sphingosine