13 May 2008

How does apoptosis begin?

Apoptosis – programmed cell death – begins with the perforation of the mitochondrial membrane due to the Bak protein. Depriving a cell of its energy stations entails a cascade of well-studied reactions.

Ruth Clark, author of To Trigger Apoptosis, Bak Exposes Its BH3 Domain and Homodimerizes via BH3:Groove Interactions, published in Molecular Cell, and her colleagues have clarified the mechanism of apoptosis, a phenomenon that has been haunting scientists since its discovery in 1972.

As scientists have found out, various "death signals" cause one fragment of the Bak protein molecule located in the mitochondrial membrane to flip over and contact another Bak molecule. As a result, numerous molecular complexes are formed, which leads first to malfunction, and then to the destruction of the cell's energy stations and the suicide that follows.

Scientists hope that their finding will help to improve and develop new drugs that both enhance and weaken apoptosis. If the former will be useful to oncologists, then the latter would not be superfluous in gerontology.

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