Journal of visualized experiments : JoVE

Examining BCL-2 family function with large unilamellar vesicles.

PMID 23070252


The BCL-2 (B cell CLL/Lymphoma) family is comprised of approximately twenty proteins that collaborate to either maintain cell survival or initiate apoptosis(1). Following cellular stress (e.g., DNA damage), the pro-apoptotic BCL-2 family effectors BAK (BCL-2 antagonistic killer 1) and/or BAX (BCL-2 associated X protein) become activated and compromise the integrity of the outer mitochondrial membrane (OMM), though the process referred to as mitochondrial outer membrane permeabilization (MOMP)(1). After MOMP occurs, pro-apoptotic proteins (e.g., cytochrome c) gain access to the cytoplasm, promote caspase activation, and apoptosis rapidly ensues(2). In order for BAK/BAX to induce MOMP, they require transient interactions with members of another pro-apoptotic subset of the BCL-2 family, the BCL-2 homology domain 3 (BH3)-only proteins, such as BID (BH3-interacting domain agonist)(3-6). Anti-apoptotic BCL-2 family proteins (e.g., BCL-2 related gene, long isoform, BCL-xL; myeloid cell leukemia 1, MCL-1) regulate cellular survival by tightly controlling the interactions between BAK/BAX and the BH3-only proteins capable of directly inducing BAK/BAX activation(7,8). In addition, anti-apoptotic BCL-2 protein availability is also dictated by sensitizer/de-repressor BH3-only proteins, such as BAD (BCL-2 antagonist of cell death) or PUMA (p53 upregulated modulator of apoptosis), which bind and inhibit anti-apoptotic members(7,9). As most of the anti-apoptotic BCL-2 repertoire is localized to the OMM, the cellular decision to maintain survival or induce MOMP is dictated by multiple BCL-2 family interactions at this membrane. Large unilamellar vesicles (LUVs) are a biochemical model to explore relationships between BCL-2 family interactions and membrane permeabilization(10). LUVs are comprised of defined lipids that are assembled in ratios identified in lipid composition studies from solvent extracted Xenopus mitochondria (46.5% phosphatidylcholine, 28.5% phosphatidylethanoloamine, 9% phosphatidylinositol, 9% phosphatidylserine, and 7% cardiolipin)(10). This is a convenient model system to directly explore BCL-2 family function because the protein and lipid components are completely defined and tractable, which is not always the case with primary mitochondria. While cardiolipin is not usually this high throughout the OMM, this model does faithfully mimic the OMM to promote BCL-2 family function. Furthermore, a more recent modification of the above protocol allows for kinetic analyses of protein interactions and real-time measurements of membrane permeabilization, which is based on LUVs containing a polyanionic dye (ANTS: 8-aminonaphthalene-1,3,6-trisulfonic acid) and cationic quencher (DPX: p-xylene-bis-pyridinium bromide)(11). As the LUVs permeabilize, ANTS and DPX diffuse apart, and a gain in fluorescence is detected. Here, commonly used recombinant BCL-2 family protein combinations and controls using the LUVs containing ANTS/DPX are described.