A BAK subdomain that binds mitochondrial lipids selectively and releases cytochrome C

Haiming Dai, Kevin L. Peterson, Karen S. Flatten, X. Wei Meng, Annapoorna Venkatachalam, Cristina Correia, Marina Ramirez-Alvarado, Yuan Ping Pang, Scott H. Kaufmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


How BAK and BAX induce mitochondrial outer membrane (MOM) permeabilization (MOMP) during apoptosis is incompletely understood. Here we have used molecular dynamics simulations, surface plasmon resonance, and assays for membrane permeabilization in vitro and in vivo to assess the structure and function of selected BAK subdomains and their derivatives. Results of these studies demonstrate that BAK helical regions α5 and α6 bind the MOM lipid cardiolipin. While individual peptides corresponding to these helical regions lack the full biological activity of BAK, tandem peptides corresponding to α4–α5, α5–α6, or α6–α7/8 can localize exogenous proteins to mitochondria, permeabilize liposomes composed of MOM lipids, and cause MOMP in the absence of the remainder of the BAK protein. Importantly, the ability of these tandem helices to induce MOMP under cell-free conditions is diminished by mutations that disrupt the U-shaped helix-turn-helix structure of the tandem peptides or decrease their lipid binding. Likewise, BAK-induced apoptosis in intact cells is diminished by CLS1 gene interruption, which decreases mitochondrial cardiolipin content, or by BAK mutations that disrupt the U-shaped tandem peptide structure or diminish lipid binding. Collectively, these results suggest that BAK structural rearrangements during apoptosis might mobilize helices involved in specific protein-lipid interactions that are critical for MOMP.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)794-808
Number of pages15
JournalCell Death and Differentiation
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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