Direct Activation of BAX by BTSA1 Overcomes Apoptosis Resistance in Acute Myeloid Leukemia

Denis E. Reyna, Thomas P. Garner, Andrea Lopez, Felix Kopp, Gaurav S. Choudhary, Ashwin Sridharan, Swathi Rao Narayanagari, Kelly Mitchell, Baoxia Dong, Boris A. Bartholdy, Loren D. Walensky, Amit Verma, Ulrich Steidl, Evripidis Gavathiotis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

122 Scopus citations


The BCL-2 family protein BAX is a central mediator of apoptosis. Overexpression of anti-apoptotic BCL-2 proteins contributes to tumor development and resistance to therapy by suppressing BAX and its activators. We report the discovery of BTSA1, a pharmacologically optimized BAX activator that binds with high affinity and specificity to the N-terminal activation site and induces conformational changes to BAX leading to BAX-mediated apoptosis. BTSA1-induced BAX activation effectively promotes apoptosis in leukemia cell lines and patient samples while sparing healthy cells. BAX expression levels and cytosolic conformation regulate sensitivity to BTSA1. BTSA1 potently suppressed human acute myeloid leukemia (AML) xenografts and increased host survival without toxicity. This study provides proof-of-concept for direct BAX activation as a treatment strategy in AML. Reyna et al. develop BTSA1, a pharmacologically optimized BAX activator, and show that BTSA1-induced BAX activation effectively and selectively promotes apoptosis of acute myeloid leukemia cells. They further demonstrate that the BAX expression level and cytosolic conformation regulate the sensitivity to BTSA1.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)490-505.e10
JournalCancer Cell
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 9 2017


  • BAX
  • BAX activator
  • BCL-2 family
  • BH3
  • BTSA1
  • MOMP
  • apoptosis
  • cell death
  • leukemia
  • mitochondria

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cell Biology
  • Cancer Research


Dive into the research topics of 'Direct Activation of BAX by BTSA1 Overcomes Apoptosis Resistance in Acute Myeloid Leukemia'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this