The apoptotic executioner protein BAX and the dynamin-like protein DRP1 co-localize at mitochondria during apoptosis to mediate mitochondrial permeabilization and fragmentation. However, the molecular basis and functional consequences of this interplay remain unknown. Here, we show that BAX and DRP1 physically interact, and that this interaction is enhanced during apoptosis. Complex formation between BAX and DRP1 occurs exclusively in the membrane environment and requires the BAX N-terminal region, but also involves several other BAX surfaces. Furthermore, the association between BAX and DRP1 enhances the membrane activity of both proteins. Forced dimerization of BAX and DRP1 triggers their activation and translocation to mitochondria, where they induce mitochondrial remodeling and permeabilization to cause apoptosis even in the absence of apoptotic triggers. Based on this, we propose that DRP1 can promote apoptosis by acting as noncanonical direct activator of BAX through physical contacts with its N-terminal region.
Keywords: BCL-2 proteins; fluorescence correlation spectroscopy; membrane protein complex; mitochondrial division; super-resolution microscopy.
© 2022 The Authors. Published under the terms of the CC BY 4.0 license.