In C. elegans, the BH3-only domain protein EGL-1, the Apaf-1 homolog CED-4 and the CED-3 caspase are required for apoptosis induction, whereas the Bcl-2 homolog CED-9 prevents apoptosis. Mammalian B-cell lymphoma 2 (Bcl-2) inhibits apoptosis by preventing the release of the Apaf-1 (apoptotic protease-activating factor 1) activator cytochrome c from mitochondria. In contrast, C. elegans CED-9 is thought to inhibit CED-4 by sequestering it at the outer mitochondrial membrane by direct binding. We show that CED-9 associates with the outer mitochondrial membrane within distinct foci that do not overlap with CED-4, which is predominantly perinuclear and does not localize to mitochondria. CED-4 further accumulates in the perinuclear space in response to proapoptotic stimuli such as ionizing radiation. This increased accumulation depends on EGL-1 and is abrogated in ced-9 gain-of-function mutants. CED-4 accumulation is not sufficient to trigger apoptosis execution, even though it may prime cells for apoptosis. Our results suggest that the cell death protection conferred by CED-9 cannot be solely explained by a direct interaction with CED-4.
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