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High-resolution analysis of the conformational transition of pro-apoptotic Bak at the lipid membrane
The EMBO Journal  (IF11.598),  Pub Date : 2021-09-15, DOI: 10.15252/embj.2020107159
Laura E Sperl, Florian Rührnößl, Anita Schiller, Martin Haslbeck, Franz Hagn

Permeabilization of the outer mitochondrial membrane by pore-forming Bcl2 proteins is a crucial step for the induction of apoptosis. Despite a large set of data suggesting global conformational changes within pro-apoptotic Bak during pore formation, high-resolution structural details in a membrane environment remain sparse. Here, we used NMR and HDX-MS (Hydrogen deuterium exchange mass spectrometry) in lipid nanodiscs to gain important high-resolution structural insights into the conformational changes of Bak at the membrane that are dependent on a direct activation by BH3-only proteins. Furthermore, we determined the first high-resolution structure of the Bak transmembrane helix. Upon activation, α-helix 1 in the soluble domain of Bak dissociates from the protein and adopts an unfolded and dynamic potentially membrane-bound state. In line with this finding, comparative protein folding experiments with Bak and anti-apoptotic BclxL suggest that α-helix 1 in Bak is a metastable structural element contributing to its pro-apoptotic features. Consequently, mutagenesis experiments aimed at stabilizing α-helix 1 yielded Bak variants with delayed pore-forming activity. These insights will contribute to a better mechanistic understanding of Bak-mediated membrane permeabilization.