Mechanisms of Bcl-2 family protein function and dysfunction in health and disease

Behring Inst Mitt. 1996 Oct;(97):72-100.


The Bcl-2 protein blocks a distal step in an evolutionarily conserved pathway for programmed cell death and apoptosis. The gene encoding this protein was first discovered because of its involvement in the t(14;18) chromosomal translocations commonly found in B-cell lymphomas, where it contributes to neoplastic cell expansion by preventing cell turnover due to programmed cell death. Overexpression of BCL-2 also occurs in many other types of human tumors, including cancers of the prostate, colon, and lung, and has been associated with chemoresistance and radioresistance in some types of malignancy. Conversely, expression of BCL-2 is frequently reduced in the circulating lymphocytes of persons infected with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), which are prone to apoptotic cell death. Since the discovery of Bcl-2 a decade ago, several other cellular and viral genes encoding homologous proteins have been identified, some of which suppress cell death akin to Bcl-2 (Bcl-XL, Mcl-1, A1/Bfl-1, Nr13, Ced-9, BHRF-1) and others which promote apoptosis (Bax, Bcl-Xs, Bak, Bik, Bad). Several of these Bcl-2 family proteins are capable of physically interacting with each other through a complex network of homo- and heterodimers. The expression of some of these other BCL-2 family genes becomes altered in human cancers, as well as in the setting of ischemia and some other pathological conditions, suggesting a potentially important role for these Bcl-2 homologs in human diseases characterized by either insufficient or excessive cell death. Despite intensive investigation, the mechanisms by which Bcl-2 and its homologs control cell life and death largely remain enigmatic. Knowledge about the specific domains in Bcl-2 family proteins that are required for interactions with other proteins and for function however is beginning to provide insights into the molecular mechanisms through which these proteins regulate the programmed cell death pathway in normalcy and disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis*
  • Cell Death
  • Chromosomes, Human, Pair 14
  • Chromosomes, Human, Pair 18
  • Disease*
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm
  • Genes, bcl-2*
  • HIV Infections / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Ischemia / genetics
  • Male
  • Multigene Family
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Nervous System Diseases / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / physiology*
  • Reference Values
  • Translocation, Genetic


  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2