Antiapoptotic Bcl-2 family proteins BCL-xL and MCL-1 integrate neural progenitor survival and proliferation during postnatal cerebellar neurogenesis

Cell Death Differ. 2021 May;28(5):1579-1592. doi: 10.1038/s41418-020-00687-7. Epub 2020 Dec 8.


The tendency of brain cells to undergo apoptosis in response to exogenous events varies across neural development, with apoptotic threshold dependent on proliferation state. Proliferative neural progenitors show a low threshold for apoptosis, while terminally differentiated neurons are relatively refractory. To define the mechanisms linking proliferation and apoptotic threshold, we examined the effect of conditionally deleting Bcl2l1, the gene that codes the antiapoptotic protein BCL-xL, in cerebellar granule neuron progenitors (CGNPs), and of co-deleting Bcl2l1 homologs, antiapoptotic Mcl-1, or pro-apoptotic Bax. We found that cerebella in conditional Bcl2l1-deleted (Bcl-xLcKO) mice were severely hypoplastic due to the increased apoptosis of CGNPs and their differentiated progeny, the cerebellar granule neurons (CGNs). Apoptosis was highest as Bcl-xLcKO CGNPs exited the cell cycle to initiate differentiation, with proliferating Bcl-xLcKO CGNPs relatively less affected. Despite the overall reduction in cerebellar growth, SHH-dependent proliferation was prolonged in Bcl-xLcKO mice, as more CGNPs remained proliferative in the second postnatal week. Co-deletion of Bax rescued the Bcl-xLcKO phenotype, while co-deletion of Mcl-1 enhanced the phenotype. These findings show that CGNPs require BCL-xL to regulate BAX-dependent apoptosis, and that this role can be partially compensated by MCL-1. Our data further show that BCL-xL expression regulates MCL-1 abundance in CGNPs, and suggest that excessive MCL-1 in Bcl-xLcKO mice prolongs CGNP proliferation by binding SUFU, resulting in increased SHH pathway activation. Accordingly, we propose that BCL-xL and MCL-1 interact with each other and with developmental mechanisms that regulate proliferation, to adjust the apoptotic threshold as CGNPs progress through postnatal neurogenesis to CGNs.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cerebellar Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Cerebellar Neoplasms / pathology
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Myeloid Cell Leukemia Sequence 1 Protein / metabolism*
  • Neurogenesis
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction


  • Mcl1 protein, mouse
  • Myeloid Cell Leukemia Sequence 1 Protein
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2