The Journal of biological chemistry

Heterodimerization of BAK and MCL-1 activated by detergent micelles.

PMID 21036904


BAK is a key protein mediating mitochondrial outer membrane permeabilization; however, its behavior in the membrane is poorly understood. Here, we characterize the conformational changes in BAK and MCL-1 using detergents to mimic the membrane environment and study their interaction by in vitro pulldown experiments, size exclusion chromatography, titration calorimetry, and NMR spectroscopy. The nonionic detergent IGEPAL has little impact on the structure of MCL-1 but induces a conformational change in BAK, whereby its BH3 region is able to engage the hydrophobic groove of MCL-1. Although the zwitterionic detergent CHAPS induces only minor conformational changes in both proteins, it is still able to initiate heterodimerization. The complex of MCL-1 and BAK can be disrupted by a BID-BH3 peptide, which acts through binding to MCL-1, but a mutant peptide, BAK-BH3-L78A, with low affinity for MCL-1 failed to dissociate the complex. The mutation L78A in BAK prevented binding to MCL-1, thus demonstrating the essential role of the BH3 region of BAK in its regulation by MCL-1. Our results validate the current models for the activation of BAK and highlight the potential value of small molecule inhibitors that target MCL-1 directly.