In a deadly double whammy, Bak helps chop the finger-like filament shape of the cell's powerhouse, or mitochondrion, into vulnerable little spheres. Another protein Bax then pokes countless holes in those spheres, spilling their pro-death contents into the cell.
"We found out Bak has a distinct function in regulation of the mitochondrial morphology," says Dr. Zheng Dong, cell biologist at the Medical College of Georgia and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Augusta and corresponding author on a paper published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "Bax, on the other hand, is not involved in morphological regulation but needs to be there to puncture holes."
"One has to break up, kind of soften, the mitochondria for injury, and the other one actually punches the holes to kill it," says Craig Brooks, MCG graduate student and the paper's first author.
Bak and Bax have similar structures and scientists have long suspected they play major, similar roles in programmed cell death, or apoptosis. "These two proteins are very important for mitochondrial injury and subsequent apoptosis," says Dr. Dong.
To stress cells, they blocked oxygen supplies and used the common chemotherapeutic agent cisplatin, then documented that filamentous mitochondria became fragmented very early and quickly in apoptosis. Ironically they also found the deadly fragmentation results from Bak's interaction with mitochondria-shaping proteins called mitofusins, which help mitochondria keep their filamentous shape in non-stressed cells. Dr. Dong suspects Bak may also play a role in mitofusin regulation in normal, non-stressful conditions.
In fact, the researchers suspect Bak, Bax and the contents they spill into the cell all have roles in keeping a cell functioning until a stressor kicks in.
"They probably are both kept in check normally in the cell by other proteins, and when something happens that overwhelms the cell, it activates Bak and Bax to start cell death," says Mr. Brooks. "Some of the same proteins, cytochrome c is the big one, are needed for daily mitochondrial function like making energy, but if they are released from the mitochondria, they activate a cell killing or apoptotic pathway," says Dr. Dong, referencing the contents that spill from punctured mitochondria.
Looking at kidney cells and neurons in a Bak deficient mouse, they also showed that Bak and Bax need each other to successfully spawn cell suicide. "If you have Bak but not Bax, the mitochondria still fragment but they don't die; if you have Bax but not Bak, you still have punctures in the mitochondria but with low efficiency," says Mr. Brooks.
Now they want to know exactly how Bak interacts with mitofusins, how the interaction is regulated and how it affects mitochondrial morphology, physiology and pathology. Their long-term goal for better understanding the cell suicide mechanism is developing drugs to block it in the case of a stroke, for example, or induce it to kill cancer.
Dr. Dong recently received a $1.1 million, four-year renewal grant from the National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases to further study the structural changes of mitochondria during apoptosis and normal physiological conditions.
Toni Baker | EurekAlert!
Multi-institutional collaboration uncovers how molecular machines assemble
02.12.2016 | Salk Institute
Fertilized egg cells trigger and monitor loss of sperm’s epigenetic memory
02.12.2016 | IMBA - Institut für Molekulare Biotechnologie der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften GmbH
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering
02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy