The mitochondrial gateway to cell death

Danielle Joy Smith, Heling Ng, Ruth M Kluck, Phillip Nagley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

64 Citations (Scopus)


Mitochondria play a key role in death signaling. The intermembrane space of these organelles contains a number of proteins which promote cell death once they are redistributed to the cytosol. The formation of pores in the outer membrane of mitochondria defines a gateway through which the apoptogenic proteins pass during death signaling. Interactions between pro-apoptotic and pro-survival members of the Bcl-2 family of proteins are decisive in the initiation of pore opening. While the specific composition of the pore in molecular terms is still subject to debate and continuing investigation, it is recognized functionally as a passive channel which not only allows egress of proteins to cytosol but also entry in the reverse direction. A variety of constraints may restrict the release of proteins from the intermembrane space to the cytosol. These include trapping in the intercristal spaces formed by the convoluted invaginations of the inner membrane, binding of proteins to the inner membrane or to other soluble proteins of the intermembrane space, or insertion of proteins into the inner membrane. There is a corresponding variety of mechanisms that facilitate release of apoptogenic proteins from such entrapment. Morphological changes that expand the inner membrane enable proteins to be released from enclosure in intercristal spaces, allowing these proteins access to the mitochondrial gateway. Specific cases include cytochrome c molecules bound to inner membrane cardiolipin and released upon oxidation of that lipid component. Further, AIF that is embedded in the inner membrane is released by proteases (caspases or calpains), which enter from the cytosol once the outer membrane pore has opened. The facilitation (or restriction) of apoptogenic protein release through the mitochondrial gateway may provide new opportunities for regulating cell death.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)383 - 389
Number of pages7
JournalIUBMB Life
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2008

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