Bcl-xL acts as an inhibitor of IP3R channels, thereby antagonizing Ca2+-driven apoptosis

Cell Death Differ. 2022 Apr;29(4):788-805. doi: 10.1038/s41418-021-00894-w. Epub 2021 Nov 8.


Anti-apoptotic Bcl-2-family members not only act at mitochondria but also at the endoplasmic reticulum, where they impact Ca2+ dynamics by controlling IP3 receptor (IP3R) function. Current models propose distinct roles for Bcl-2 vs. Bcl-xL, with Bcl-2 inhibiting IP3Rs and preventing pro-apoptotic Ca2+ release and Bcl-xL sensitizing IP3Rs to low [IP3] and promoting pro-survival Ca2+ oscillations. We here demonstrate that Bcl-xL too inhibits IP3R-mediated Ca2+ release by interacting with the same IP3R regions as Bcl-2. Via in silico superposition, we previously found that the residue K87 of Bcl-xL spatially resembled K17 of Bcl-2, a residue critical for Bcl-2's IP3R-inhibitory properties. Mutagenesis of K87 in Bcl-xL impaired its binding to IP3R and abrogated Bcl-xL's inhibitory effect on IP3Rs. Single-channel recordings demonstrate that purified Bcl-xL, but not Bcl-xLK87D, suppressed IP3R single-channel openings stimulated by sub-maximal and threshold [IP3]. Moreover, we demonstrate that Bcl-xL-mediated inhibition of IP3Rs contributes to its anti-apoptotic properties against Ca2+-driven apoptosis. Staurosporine (STS) elicits long-lasting Ca2+ elevations in wild-type but not in IP3R-knockout HeLa cells, sensitizing the former to STS treatment. Overexpression of Bcl-xL in wild-type HeLa cells suppressed STS-induced Ca2+ signals and cell death, while Bcl-xLK87D was much less effective in doing so. In the absence of IP3Rs, Bcl-xL and Bcl-xLK87D were equally effective in suppressing STS-induced cell death. Finally, we demonstrate that endogenous Bcl-xL also suppress IP3R activity in MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells, whereby Bcl-xL knockdown augmented IP3R-mediated Ca2+ release and increased the sensitivity towards STS, without altering the ER Ca2+ content. Hence, this study challenges the current paradigm of divergent functions for Bcl-2 and Bcl-xL in Ca2+-signaling modulation and reveals that, similarly to Bcl-2, Bcl-xL inhibits IP3R-mediated Ca2+ release and IP3R-driven cell death. Our work further underpins that IP3R inhibition is an integral part of Bcl-xL's anti-apoptotic function.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis*
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Calcium Signaling*
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Inositol 1,4,5-Trisphosphate Receptors* / genetics
  • bcl-X Protein* / metabolism


  • BCL2L1 protein, human
  • Inositol 1,4,5-Trisphosphate Receptors
  • bcl-X Protein
  • Calcium