PK11195, a ligand of the mitochondrial benzodiazepine receptor, facilitates the induction of apoptosis and reverses Bcl-2-mediated cytoprotection

Exp Cell Res. 1998 Jun 15;241(2):426-34. doi: 10.1006/excr.1998.4084.


One critical step of the apoptotic process is the opening of the mitochondrial permeability transition (PT) pore leading to the disruption of mitochondrial membrane integrity and to the dissipation of the inner transmembrane proton gradient (Delta Psim). The mitochondrial PT pore is a polyprotein structure which is inhibited by the apoptosis-inhibitory oncoprotein Bcl-2 and which is closely associated with the mitochondrial benzodiazepine receptor (mBzR). Here we show that PK11195, a prototypic ligand of the 18-kDa mBzR, facilitates the induction of Delta Psim disruption and subsequent apoptosis by a number of different agents,including agonists of the glucocorticoid receptor,chemotherapeutic agents (etoposide, doxorubicin),gamma irradiation, and the proapoptotic second messenger ceramide. Whereas PK11195 itself has no cytotoxic effect, it enhances apoptosis induction by these agents. This effect is not observed for benzodiazepine diazepam, whose binding site in the mBzR differs from PK11195. PK11195 partially reverses Bcl-2 mediated inhibition of apoptosis in two different cell lines. Thus, transfection-enforced Bcl-2 overexpression confers protection against glucocorticoids and chemotherapeutic agents, and this protection is largely reversed by the addition of PK11195. This effect is observed at the level of Delta Psim dissipation as well as at the level of nuclear apoptosis. To gain insights into the site of action of PK11195, we performed experiments on isolated organelles. PK11195 reverses the Bcl-2-mediated mitochondrial retention of apoptogenic factors which cause isolated nuclei to undergo apoptosis in a cell-free system. Mitochondria from control cells, but not mitochondria from Bcl-2-overexpressing cells, readily release such apoptogenic factors in response to atractyloside, a ligand of the adenine nucleotide translocator. However, control and Bcl-2-overexpressing mitochondria respond equally well to a combination of atractyloside and PK11195. Altogether, these findings indicate that PK11195 abolishes apoptosis inhibition by Bcl-2 via a direct effect on mitochondria. Moreover, they suggest a novel strategy for enhancing the susceptibility of cells to apoptosis induction and, concomitantly, for reversing Bcl-2-mediated cytoprotection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibiotics, Antineoplastic / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / pharmacology
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Apoptosis / physiology*
  • Apoptosis / radiation effects
  • Ceramides / pharmacology
  • Doxorubicin / pharmacology
  • Drug Synergism
  • Etoposide / pharmacology
  • GABA-A Receptor Agonists
  • Intracellular Membranes / physiology
  • Isoquinolines / pharmacology*
  • Ligands
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Permeability
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / physiology*
  • Receptors, GABA-A / physiology*
  • T-Lymphocytes / pathology*
  • T-Lymphocytes / physiology*
  • T-Lymphocytes / ultrastructure


  • Antibiotics, Antineoplastic
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic
  • Ceramides
  • GABA-A Receptor Agonists
  • Isoquinolines
  • Ligands
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • Receptors, GABA-A
  • Etoposide
  • Doxorubicin
  • PK 11195