Covalent inhibition of pro-apoptotic BAX

Nat Chem Biol. 2024 Jan 17. doi: 10.1038/s41589-023-01537-6. Online ahead of print.


BCL-2-associated X protein (BAX) is a promising therapeutic target for activating or restraining apoptosis in diseases of pathologic cell survival or cell death, respectively. In response to cellular stress, BAX transforms from a quiescent cytosolic monomer into a toxic oligomer that permeabilizes the mitochondria, releasing key apoptogenic factors. The mitochondrial lipid trans-2-hexadecenal (t-2-hex) sensitizes BAX activation by covalent derivatization of cysteine 126 (C126). In this study, we performed a disulfide tethering screen to discover C126-reactive molecules that modulate BAX activity. We identified covalent BAX inhibitor 1 (CBI1) as a compound that selectively derivatizes BAX at C126 and inhibits BAX activation by triggering ligands or point mutagenesis. Biochemical and structural analyses revealed that CBI1 can inhibit BAX by a dual mechanism of action: conformational constraint and competitive blockade of lipidation. These data inform a pharmacologic strategy for suppressing apoptosis in diseases of unwanted cell death by covalent targeting of BAX C126.