Endolysosomal Targeting of Mitochondria Is Integral to BAX-Mediated Mitochondrial Permeabilization during Apoptosis Signaling

Dev Cell. 2020 Jun 22;53(6):627-645.e7. doi: 10.1016/j.devcel.2020.05.014. Epub 2020 Jun 5.


Mitochondrial outer membrane permeabilization (MOMP) is a core event in apoptosis signaling. However, the underlying mechanism of BAX and BAK pore formation remains incompletely understood. We demonstrate that mitochondria are globally and dynamically targeted by endolysosomes (ELs) during MOMP. In response to pro-apoptotic BH3-only protein signaling and pharmacological MOMP induction, ELs increasingly form transient contacts with mitochondria. Subsequently, ELs rapidly accumulate within the entire mitochondrial compartment. This switch-like accumulation period temporally coincides with mitochondrial BAX clustering and cytochrome c release. Remarkably, interactions of ELs with mitochondria control BAX recruitment and pore formation. Knockdown of Rab5A, Rab5C, or USP15 interferes with EL targeting of mitochondria and functionally uncouples BAX clustering from cytochrome c release, while knockdown of the Rab5 exchange factor Rabex-5 impairs both BAX clustering and cytochrome c release. Together, these data reveal that EL-mitochondrial inter-organelle communication is an integral regulatory component of functional MOMP execution during cellular apoptosis signaling.

Keywords: Apoptosis; BCL-2-associated X protein (BAX); Rab5; Rabex-5/RabGEF1; USP15; endolysosomes; endosomes; mitochondria; mitochondrial outer membrane permeabilization (MOMP); regulated cell death.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis*
  • Endosomes / metabolism*
  • Guanine Nucleotide Exchange Factors / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Lysosomes / metabolism*
  • MCF-7 Cells
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Mitochondrial Permeability Transition Pore / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Ubiquitin-Specific Proteases / metabolism
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein / metabolism*
  • rab5 GTP-Binding Proteins / metabolism


  • BAX protein, human
  • Guanine Nucleotide Exchange Factors
  • Mitochondrial Permeability Transition Pore
  • RABGEF1 protein, human
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein
  • USP15 protein, human
  • Ubiquitin-Specific Proteases
  • RAB5C protein, human
  • rab5 GTP-Binding Proteins