Comparison of the ion channel characteristics of proapoptotic BAX and antiapoptotic BCL-2

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1997 Oct 14;94(21):11357-62. doi: 10.1073/pnas.94.21.11357.


The BCL-2 family of proteins is composed of both pro- and antiapoptotic regulators, although its most critical biochemical functions remain uncertain. The structural similarity between the BCL-XL monomer and several ion-pore-forming bacterial toxins has prompted electrophysiologic studies. Both BAX and BCL-2 insert into KCl-loaded vesicles in a pH-dependent fashion and demonstrate macroscopic ion efflux. Release is maximum at approximately pH 4.0 for both proteins; however, BAX demonstrates a broader pH range of activity. Both purified proteins also insert into planar lipid bilayers at pH 4.0. Single-channel recordings revealed a minimal channel conductance for BAX of 22 pS that evolved to channel currents with at least three subconductance levels. The final, apparently stable BAX channel had a conductance of 0.731 nS at pH 4. 0 that changed to 0.329 nS when shifted to pH 7.0 but remained mildly Cl- selective and predominantly open. When BAX-incorporated lipid vesicles were fused to planar lipid bilayers at pH 7.0, a Cl--selective (PK/PCl = 0.3) 1.5-nS channel displaying mild inward rectification was noted. In contrast, BCL-2 formed mildly K+-selective (PK/PCl = 3.9) channels with a most prominent initial conductance of 80 pS that increased to 1.90 nS. Fusion of BCL-2-incorporated lipid vesicles into planar bilayers at pH 7.0 also revealed mild K+ selectivity (PK/PCl = 2.4) with a maximum conductance of 1.08 nS. BAX and BCL-2 each form channels in artificial membranes that have distinct characteristics including ion selectivity, conductance, voltage dependence, and rectification. Thus, one role of these molecules may include pore activity at selected membrane sites.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis*
  • Electric Conductivity
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Ion Channels / physiology*
  • Kinetics
  • Lipid Bilayers
  • Membrane Potentials
  • Mice
  • Potassium / metabolism
  • Proteolipids / metabolism
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / physiology*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / physiology*
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein


  • Bax protein, mouse
  • Ion Channels
  • Lipid Bilayers
  • Proteolipids
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein
  • proteoliposomes
  • Potassium