Synthetic antibodies inhibit Bcl-2-associated X protein (BAX) through blockade of the N-terminal activation site

Onyinyechukwu Uchime, Zhou Dai, Nikolaos Biris, David Lee, Sachdev S. Sidhu, Sheng Li, Jonathan R. Lai, Evripidis Gavathiotis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


The BCL-2 protein family plays a critical role in regulating cellular commitment to mitochondrial apoptosis. Pro-apoptotic Bcl-2-associated X protein (BAX) is an executioner protein of the BCL-2 family that represents the gateway to mitochondrial apoptosis. Following cellular stresses that induce apoptosis, cytosolicBAXis activated and translocates to the mitochondria, where it inserts into the mitochondrial outer membrane to form a toxic pore.HowtheBAXactivation pathway proceeds and how this may be inhibited is not yet completely understood. Here we describe synthetic antibody fragments (Fabs) as structural and biochemical probes to investigate the potential mechanisms of BAX regulation. These synthetic Fabs bind with high affinity to BAX and inhibit its activation by the BH3-only protein tBID (truncated Bcl2 interacting protein) in assays using liposomal membranes. Inhibition of BAX by a representative Fab, 3G11, prevented mitochondrial translocation of BAX and BAX-mediated cytochrome c release. Using NMR and hydrogen-deuterium exchange mass spectrometry, we showed that 3G11 forms a stoichiometric and stable complex without inducing a significant conformational change on monomeric and inactive BAX. We identified that the Fab-binding site on BAX involves residues of helices α1/α6 and the α1 -α2 loop. Therefore, the inhibitory binding surface of 3G11 overlaps with the N-terminal activation site of BAX, suggesting a novel mechanism of BAX inhibition through direct binding to the BAX N-terminal activation site. The synthetic Fabs reported here reveal, as probes, novel mechanistic insights into BAX inhibition and provide a blueprint for developing inhibitors of BAX activation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)89-102
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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