Ancient and conserved functional interplay between Bcl-2 family proteins in the mitochondrial pathway of apoptosis
In metazoans, Bcl-2 family proteins are major regulators of mitochondrially mediated apoptosis; however, their evolution remains poorly understood. Here, we describe the molecular characterization of the four members of the Bcl-2 family in the most primitive metazoan, <i>Trichoplax adhaerens</i> All four trBcl-2 homologs are multimotif Bcl-2 group, with trBcl-2L1 and trBcl-2L2 being highly divergent antiapoptotic Bcl-2 members, whereas trBcl-2L3 and trBcl-2L4 are homologs of proapoptotic Bax and Bak, respectively. trBax expression permeabilizes the mitochondrial outer membrane, while trBak operates as a BH3-only sensitizer repressing antiapoptotic activities of trBcl-2L1 and trBcl-2L2. The crystal structure of a trBcl-2L2:trBak BH3 complex reveals that trBcl-2L2 uses the canonical Bcl-2 ligand binding groove to sequester trBak BH3, indicating that the structural basis for apoptosis control is conserved from <i>T. adhaerens</i> to mammals. Finally, we demonstrate that both trBax and trBak BH3 peptides bind selectively to human Bcl-2 homologs to sensitize cancer cells to chemotherapy treatment.