The Journal of biological chemistry

Natural diterpenoid compound elevates expression of Bim protein, which interacts with antiapoptotic protein Bcl-2, converting it to proapoptotic Bax-like molecule.

PMID 22065578


Overwhelming evidence indicates that Bax and Bak are indispensable for mediating cytochrome c release from mitochondria during apoptosis. Here we report a Bax/Bak-independent mechanism of cytochrome c release and apoptosis. We identified a natural diterpenoid compound that induced apoptosis in bax/bak double knock-out murine embryonic fibroblasts and substantially reduced the tumor growth from these cells implanted in mice. Treatment with the compound significantly increased expression of Bim, which migrated to mitochondria, altering the conformation of and forming oligomers with resident Bcl-2 to induce cytochrome c release and caspase activation. Importantly, purified Bim and Bcl-2 proteins cooperated to permeabilize a model mitochondrial outer membrane; this was accompanied by oligomerization of these proteins and deep embedding of Bcl-2 in the membrane. Therefore, the diterpenoid compound induces a structural and functional conversion of Bcl-2 through Bim to permeabilize the mitochondrial outer membrane, thereby inducing apoptosis independently of Bax and Bak. Because Bcl-2 family proteins play important roles in cancer development and relapse, this novel cell death mechanism can be explored for developing more effective anticancer therapeutics.

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