Upon apoptosis induction, the proapoptotic protein Bax is translocated from the cytosol to mitochondria, where it promotes release of cytochrome c, a caspase‐activating protein. However, the molecular mechanisms by which Bax triggers cytochrome c release are unknown. Here we report that before the initiation of apoptotic execution by etoposide or staurosporin, an active calpain activity cleaves Bax at its N‐terminus, generating a potent proapoptotic 18‐kDa fragment (Bax/p18). Both the calpain‐mediated Bax cleavage activity and the Bax/p18 fragment were found in the mitochondrial membrane‐enriched fraction. Cleavage of Bax was followed by release of mitochondrial cytochrome c, activation of caspase‐3, cleavage of poly(ADP‐ribose) polymerase, and fragmentation of DNA. Unlike the full‐length Bax, Bax/p18 did not interact with the antiapoptotic Bcl‐2 protein in the mitochondrial fraction of drug‐treated cells. Pretreatment with a specific calpain inhibitor calpeptin inhibited etoposide‐induced calpain activation, Bax cleavage, cytochrome c release, and caspase‐3 activation. In contrast, transfection of a cloned Bax/p18 cDNA into multiple human cancer cell lines targeted Bax/p18 to mitochondria, which was accompanied by release of cytochrome c and induction of caspase‐3‐mediated apoptosis that was not blocked by overexpression of Bcl‐2 protein. Therefore, Bax/p18 has a cytochrome c–releasing activity that promotes cell death independent of Bcl‐2. Finally, Bcl‐2 overexpression inhibited etoposide‐induced calpain activation, Bax cleavage, cytochrome c release, and apoptosis. Our results suggest that the mitochondrial calpain plays an essential role in apoptotic commitment by cleaving Bax and generating the Bax/p18 fragment, which in turn mediates cytochrome c release and initiates the apoptotic execution. J. Cell. Biochem. 80:53–72, 2000. © 2000 Wiley‐Liss, Inc.
Journal of Cellular Biochemistry – Wiley
Published: Jan 1, 2001
Keywords: Bax; Bcl‐2; calpain; cytochrome c; apoptosis
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