Paradoxical implication of BAX/BAK in the persistence of tetraploid cells

Cell Death Dis. 2021 Nov 1;12(11):1039. doi: 10.1038/s41419-021-04321-3.


Pro-apoptotic multi-domain proteins of the BCL2 family such as BAX and BAK are well known for their important role in the induction of mitochondrial outer membrane permeabilization (MOMP), which is the rate-limiting step of the intrinsic pathway of apoptosis. Human or mouse cells lacking both BAX and BAK (due to a double knockout, DKO) are notoriously resistant to MOMP and cell death induction. Here we report the surprising finding that BAX/BAK DKO cells proliferate less than control cells expressing both BAX and BAK (or either BAX or BAK) when they are driven into tetraploidy by transient exposure to the microtubule inhibitor nocodazole. Mechanistically, in contrast to their BAX/BAK-sufficient controls, tetraploid DKO cells activate a senescent program, as indicated by the overexpression of several cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitors and the activation of β-galactosidase. Moreover, DKO cells manifest alterations in ionomycin-mobilizable endoplasmic reticulum (ER) Ca2+ stores and store-operated Ca2+ entry that are affected by tetraploidization. DKO cells manifested reduced expression of endogenous sarcoplasmic/endoplasmic reticulum Ca2+ ATPase 2a (Serca2a) and transfection-enforced reintroduction of Serca2a, or reintroduction of an ER-targeted variant of BAK into DKO cells reestablished the same pattern of Ca2+ fluxes as observed in BAX/BAK-sufficient control cells. Serca2a reexpression and ER-targeted BAK also abolished the tetraploidy-induced senescence of DKO cells, placing ER Ca2+ fluxes downstream of the regulation of senescence by BAX/BAK. In conclusion, it appears that BAX/BAK prevent the induction of a tetraploidization-associated senescence program. Speculatively, this may contribute to the low incidence of cancers in BAX/BAK DKO mice and explain why human cancers rarely lose the expression of both BAX and BAK.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Calcium Signaling
  • Cell Line
  • Cellular Senescence
  • Clone Cells
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum / metabolism
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Microtubules / metabolism
  • Sarcoplasmic Reticulum Calcium-Transporting ATPases / metabolism
  • Tetraploidy*
  • bcl-2 Homologous Antagonist-Killer Protein / deficiency
  • bcl-2 Homologous Antagonist-Killer Protein / metabolism*
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein / deficiency
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein / metabolism*


  • bcl-2 Homologous Antagonist-Killer Protein
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein
  • Sarcoplasmic Reticulum Calcium-Transporting ATPases
  • Calcium