Bok Is Not Pro-Apoptotic But Suppresses Poly ADP-Ribose Polymerase-Dependent Cell Death Pathways and Protects against Excitotoxic and Seizure-Induced Neuronal Injury

J Neurosci. 2016 Apr 20;36(16):4564-78. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3780-15.2016.


Bok (Bcl-2-related ovarian killer) is a Bcl-2 family member that, because of its predicted structural homology to Bax and Bak, has been proposed to be a pro-apoptotic protein. In this study, we demonstrate that Bok is highly expressed in neurons of the mouse brain but that bok was not required for staurosporine-, proteasome inhibition-, or excitotoxicity-induced apoptosis of cultured cortical neurons. On the contrary, we found that bok-deficient neurons were more sensitive to oxygen/glucose deprivation-induced injury in vitro and seizure-induced neuronal injury in vivo Deletion of bok also increased staurosporine-, excitotoxicity-, and oxygen/glucose deprivation-induced cell death in bax-deficient neurons. Single-cell imaging demonstrated that bok-deficient neurons failed to maintain their neuronal Ca(2+)homeostasis in response to an excitotoxic stimulus; this was accompanied by a prolonged deregulation of mitochondrial bioenergetics.bok deficiency led to a specific reduction in neuronal Mcl-1 protein levels, and deregulation of both mitochondrial bioenergetics and Ca(2+)homeostasis was rescued by Mcl-1 overexpression. Detailed analysis of cell death pathways demonstrated the activation of poly ADP-ribose polymerase-dependent cell death in bok-deficient neurons. Collectively, our data demonstrate that Bok acts as a neuroprotective factor rather than a pro-death effector during Ca(2+)- and seizure-induced neuronal injury in vitro and in vivo

Significance statement: Bcl-2 proteins are essential regulators of the mitochondrial apoptosis pathway. The Bcl-2 protein Bok is highly expressed in the CNS. Because of its sequence similarity to Bax and Bak, Bok has long been considered part of the pro-apoptotic Bax-like subfamily, but no studies have yet been performed in neurons to test this hypothesis. Our study provides important new insights into the functional role of Bok during neuronal apoptosis and specifically in the setting of Ca(2+)- and seizure-mediated neuronal injury. We show that Bok controls neuronal Ca(2+)homeostasis and bioenergetics and, contrary to previous assumptions, exerts neuroprotective activities in vitro and in vivo Our results demonstrate that Bok cannot be placed unambiguously into the Bax-like Bcl-2 subfamily of pro-apoptotic proteins.

Keywords: Bax; Bcl-2 family proteins; calcium; cell death; excitotoxicity; glutamate.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / physiology*
  • Calcium Signaling / physiology
  • Cell Death / physiology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Female
  • Mice
  • Mice, 129 Strain
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Neocortex / metabolism
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Poly(ADP-ribose) Polymerases / metabolism*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / deficiency*
  • Seizures / metabolism*
  • Seizures / prevention & control*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology


  • Bok protein, mouse
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • Poly(ADP-ribose) Polymerases