Efficacy and specificity of inhibitors of BCL-2 family protein interactions assessed by affinity measurements in live cells

Sci Adv. 2022 Apr 22;8(16):eabm7375. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.abm7375. Epub 2022 Apr 20.


Cytoplasmic and membrane-bound BCL-2 family proteins regulate apoptosis, a form of programmed cell death, via dozens of binary protein interactions confounding measurement of the effects of inhibitors in live cells. In cancer, apoptosis is frequently dysregulated, and cell survival depends on antiapoptotic proteins binding to and inhibiting proapoptotic BH3 proteins. The clinical success of BH3 mimetic inhibitors of antiapoptotic proteins has spawned major efforts by the pharmaceutical industry to develop molecules with different specificities and higher affinities. Here, quantitative fast fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy enabled comparison of BH3 mimetic drugs in trials and preclinical development by measuring drug effects on binding affinities of interacting protein pairs in live cells. Both selectivity and efficacy were assessed for 15 inhibitors of four antiapoptotic proteins for each of six BH3 protein ligands. While many drugs target the designed interaction, most also have unexpected selectivity and poor efficacy in cells.

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis
  • Apoptosis Regulatory Proteins* / metabolism
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / metabolism
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins* / metabolism


  • Apoptosis Regulatory Proteins
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2