The Bcl-2 related protein Bad is a promoter of apoptosis and has been shown to dimerize with the anti-apoptotic proteins Bcl-2 and Bcl-x(L). Overexpression of Bad in murine FL5.12 cells demonstrated that the protein not only could abrogate the protective capacity of coexpressed Bcl-x(L) but could accelerate the apoptotic response to a death signal when it was expressed in the absence of exogenous Bcl-x(L). Using deletion analysis, we have identified the minimal domain in the murine Bad protein that can dimerize with Bcl-x(L). A 26-aminoacid peptide within this domain, which showed significant homology to the alpha-helical BH3 domains of related apoptotic proteins like Bak and Bax, was found to be necessary and sufficient to bind Bcl-x(L). To determine the role of dimerization in regulating the death-promoting activity of Bad and the death-inhibiting activity of Bcl- x(L), mutations within the hydrophobic BH3-binding pocket in Bcl-x(L), that eliminated the ability of Bcl-x(L) to form a heterodimer with Bad were tested for the ability to promote cell survival in the presence of Bad. Several of these mutants retained the ability to impart protection against cell death regardless of the level of coexpressed Bad protein. These results suggest that BH3-containing proteins like Bad promote cell death by binding to antiapoptotic members of the Bcl-2 family and thus inhibiting their survival promoting functions.