Subcellular and submitochondrial mode of action of Bcl-2-like oncoproteins

Oncogene. 1998 Apr 30;16(17):2265-82. doi: 10.1038/sj.onc.1201989.


Bcl-2 is the prototype of a class of oncogenes which regulates apoptosis. Bcl-2-related gene products with either death-promoting and death-inhibitory activity are critically involved in numerous disease states and thus constitute prime targets for therapeutic interventions. The relative amount of death agonists and antagonists from the Bcl-2 family constitutes a regulatory rheostat whose function is determined, at least in part, by selective protein-protein interactions. Bcl-2 and its homologs insert into intracellular membranes including mitochondria, the endoplasmatic reticulum and the nuclear envelope. Many of the molecular genetic, ultrastructural, crystallographic and functional studies suggest that Bcl-2-related molecules exert their apoptosis-regulatory effects via regulating mitochondrial alterations preceding the activation of apoptogenic proteases and nucleases. Via a direct effect on mitochondrial membranes, Bcl-2 prevents all hallmarks of the early stage of apoptosis including disruption of the inner mitochondrial transmembrane potential and the release of apoptogenic protease activators from mitochondria. The mitochondrial permeability transition (PT) pore, also called mitochondrial megachannel or multiple conductance channel, is a multiprotein complex formed at the contact site between the mitochondrial inner and outer membranes, exactly at the same localization at which Bax, Bcl-2, and Bcl-XL are particularly abundant. The PT pore participates in the regulation of matrix Ca2+, pH, deltapsim, and volume and functions as a Ca2+-, voltage-, pH-, and redox-gated channel with several levels of conductance and little if any ion selectivity. Experiments involving the purified PT pore complex indicate that Bax, Bcl-2, and Bcl-XL exert at least part of their apoptosis-regulatory function by facilitating (Bax) or inhibiting (Bcl-2, Bcl-XL) PT pore opening. These findings clarify the principal (but not exclusive) mechanism of Bcl-2-mediated cytoprotection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Intracellular Membranes / physiology*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / physiology*
  • Subcellular Fractions / physiology
  • Submitochondrial Particles / physiology*


  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2