Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2014 Oct 1;111(41):14782-7. Epub 2014 Oct 1.
National Institute of Biological Sciences, Beijing 102206, China; Graduate School of Peking Union Medical College, Beijing 100730, China; and Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, Beijing 100730, China
Intrinsic apoptotic stimuli initiate mammalian cells' apoptotic program by first activating the proteins that have only Bcl-2 homology domain 3 (BH3), such as Bcl-2 interacting mediator of cell death (Bim) and truncated BH3 interacting death domain agonist (tBid), which in turn trigger conformational changes in BCL2-associated X (Bax) and BCL2-antagonist/killer (Bak) proteins that enable oligomer formation on the mitochondria, causing cytochrome c and other apoptogenic proteins in the intermembrane space to leak out. Leaked cytochrome c then initiates apoptotic caspase activation through a well-defined biochemical pathway. However, how oligomerized Bax and Bak cause cytochrome c release from mitochondria remains unknown. We report here the establishment of cell lines in which Bim or tBid can be inducibly expressed to initiate apoptosis in a controlled, quantitative manner. We used these cell lines to examine apoptotic events after Bax and Bak oligomerization but before cytochrome c release. The mitochondrial metalloprotease OMA1 was activated in this system in a Bax- and Bak-dependent fashion. Activated OMA1 cleaved the dynamin-like GTPase, optical nerve atrophy 1, an event that is critical for remodeling of mitochondrial cristae. Knockdown or knockout of OMA1 in these cells attenuated cytochrome c release. Thus it is clear that oligomerized Bax and Bak trigger apoptosis by causing both the permeabilization of the mitochondrial outer membrane and activation OMA1.