Metazoans and Intrinsic Apoptosis: An Evolutionary Analysis of the Bcl-2 Family

Chathura D. Suraweera, Suresh Banjara, Mark G. Hinds, Marc Kvansakul

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8 Citations (Scopus)


The B-cell lymphoma-2 (Bcl-2) family is a group of genes regulating intrinsic apoptosis, a process controlling events such as development, homeostasis and the innate and adaptive immune responses in metazoans. In higher organisms, Bcl-2 proteins coordinate intrinsic apoptosis through their regulation of the integrity of the mitochondrial outer membrane; this function appears to have originated in the basal metazoans. Bcl-2 genes predate the cnidarian-bilaterian split and have been identified in porifera, placozoans and cnidarians but not ctenophores and some nematodes. The Bcl-2 family is composed of two groups of proteins, one with an α-helical Bcl-2 fold that has been identified in porifera, placozoans, cnidarians, and almost all higher bilaterians. The second group of proteins, the BH3-only group, has little sequence conservation and less well-defined structures and is found in cnidarians and most bilaterians, but not porifera or placozoans. Here we examine the evolutionary relationships between Bcl-2 proteins. We show that the structures of the Bcl-2-fold proteins are highly conserved over evolutionary time. Some metazoans such as the urochordate Oikopleura dioica have lost all Bcl-2 family members. This gene loss indicates that Bcl-2 regulated apoptosis is not an absolute requirement in metazoans, a finding mirrored in recent gene deletion studies in mice. Sequence analysis suggests that at least some Bcl-2 proteins lack the ability to bind BH3-only antagonists and therefore potentially have other non-apoptotic functions. By examining the foundations of the Bcl-2 regulated apoptosis, functional relationships may be clarified that allow us to understand the role of specific Bcl-2 proteins in evolution and disease.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3691
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Journal of Molecular Sciences
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • apoptosis
  • Bcl-2
  • evolution
  • sequence analysis
  • structure analysis

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