Constitutive BAK activation as a determinant of drug sensitivity in malignant lymphohematopoietic cells

Haiming Dai, Husheng Ding, X. Wei Meng, Kevin L. Peterson, Paula A. Schneider, Judith E. Karp, Scott H. Kaufmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Mitochondrial outer membrane permeabilization (MOMP), a key step in the intrinsic apoptotic pathway, is incompletely understood. Current models emphasize the role of BH3-only BCL2 family members in BAX and BAK activation. Here we demonstrate concentration-dependent BAK autoactivation under cell-free conditions and provide evidence that this autoactivation plays a key role in regulating the intrinsic apoptotic pathway in intact cells. In particular, we show that up to 80% of BAK (but not BAX) in lymphohematopoietic cell lines is oligomerized and bound to anti-apoptotic BCL2 family members in the absence of exogenous death stimuli. The extent of this constitutive BAK oligomerization is diminished by BAK knockdown and unaffected by BIM orPUMAdown-regulation. Further analysis indicates that sensitivity of cells to BH3 mimetics reflects the identity of the anti-apoptotic proteins to which BAK is constitutively bound, with extensive BCLXL•BAK complexes predicting navitoclax sensitivity, and extensive MCL1•BAK complexes predicting A1210477 sensitivity. Moreover, high BAK expression correlates with sensitivity of clinical acute myelogenous leukemia to chemotherapy, whereas low BAK levels correlate with resistance and relapse. Collectively, these results inform current understanding of MOMP and provide new insight into the ability of BH3 mimetics to induce apoptosis without directly activating BAX or BAK.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2140-2152
Number of pages13
JournalGenes and Development
Issue number20
StatePublished - Oct 15 2015


  • Apoptosis
  • BAK
  • BH3 mimetic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Developmental Biology


Dive into the research topics of 'Constitutive BAK activation as a determinant of drug sensitivity in malignant lymphohematopoietic cells'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this