The ability of Bcl-x(L) and Bcl-2 to prevent apoptosis can be differentially regulated

A. R. Gottschalk, L. H. Boise, Zoltan N Oltvai, M. A. Accavitti, S. J. Korsmeyer, J. Quintans, C. B. Thompson

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22 Scopus citations


Although expression of Bcl-2 has been shown to prevent apoptosis under many circumstances, there are several systems in which Bcl-2 fails to promote cell survival. We have previously reported that Bcl-2 and Bcl-x(L) display differential ability to protect WEHI-231 cells from multiple inducers of apoptosis. A possible explanation for this paradox was provided by the discovery of Bax. Bax is a Bcl-2-related protein which can inhibit the ability of Bcl-2 to enhance the survival of growth factor dependent cell lines in the absence of growth factor. Consistent with the possibility that Bcl-2 function in WEHI-231 cells is inhibited by Bax, WEHI-231 cells were found to express a high level of Bax. To directly test the effects of Bax expression on Bcl-x(L) function, FL5.12 cells were transfected with both genes. Although Bax overexpression can inhibit Bcl-2 from prolonging cell survival upon growth factor withdrawal, Bax overexpression did not inhibit Bcl-x(L) from preventing apoptosis in this cell line. Although Bcl-2 and Bcl-x(L) were both found to be able to form heterodimers with Bax, the majority of Bax in both cases was not complexed to a partner. Our data suggest that Bcl-x(L) does not function by simply preventing the formation of Bax homodimers which promote cell death. Instead Bax appears to display selectivity in its ability to inhibit Bcl-2 but not Bcl-x(L) from prolonging survival. Furthermore, our data suggest that the abilities of Bcl-2 and Bcl-x(L) to promote cell survival are not identical and can be independently regulated within a cell. Regulation of a cell's apoptotic threshold is likely to result from a complex set of interactions among Bcl-2 family members and other, as yet uncharacterised, regulators of apoptosis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)113-118
Number of pages6
JournalCell Death and Differentation
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 1996


  • Apoptosis
  • Bax
  • Bcl-2
  • Bcl-x
  • Programmed cell death


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