Apoptosis, Circular dichroism, Fluorescence, Proteins, bcl 2-Associated X Protein


The BCL-2 family of proteins tightly regulates the delicate balance between life and death. The pore forming Bax is a pro-apoptotic member belonging to this protein family. At the onset of apoptosis, monomeric cytoplasmic Bax translocates to the outer mitochondrial membrane, forms oligomeric pores thereby letting mitochondrial cytochrome c enter the cytosol and initiate the apoptotic cascade. The C-terminal "helix 9" is thought to mediate the membrane binding of BAX. A 20-amino acid peptide corresponding to Bax C-terminus (VTIFVAGVLTASLTIWKKMG) and two mutants where the two lysines are replaced with Glu (charge reversal mutant, EE) or Leu (charge neutralization mutant, LL) have been studied to elucidate the pore formation capabilities of Bax C-terminus and the underlying molecular mechanism. Interactions of the wild-type and the two mutant peptides with zwitterionic and anionic phospholipid membranes caused efficient membrane permeabilization, as documented by release of vesicle-entrapped fluorescent indicator calcein. Light scattering experiments showed that vesicles maintained their integrity upon peptide binding, indicating that the content leakage was due to pore formation and not vesicle degradation. Kinetics of calcein release at various peptide concentrations were used to determine the peptide-peptide association constants and the oligomeric state of the pore. The structure of membrane-bound peptides was analyzed by circular dichroism (CD) and attenuated total reflection-Fourier transform infrared (ATR-FTIR) spectroscopy. CD data indicated all three peptides reconstituted in lipid vesicles contained [alpha]-helical and [beta]-strand structures. ATR-FTIR experiments indicated that the minimally hydrated samples of peptides in stacked lipid bilayers (absence of bulk water) were mostly [alpha]-helical but adopted mostly [beta]-sheet conformation in the presence of excess water. Finally, the depth of membrane insertion of the peptides was analyzed using tryptophan fluorescence quenching by dibromo-phosphatidylcholines brominated at various positions of their acyl chains. In case of zwitterionc phospholipid membranes, the single Trp¹⁶ was located at ~9 Å from membrane center. In case of membranes containing 30% of an anionic phospholipid, the depth of membrane insertion of the EE mutant was not affected but the wild-type and the LL mutant peptides were embedded much deeper into the membrane, with Trp¹⁶ located at 3-4 Å from membrane center. These results will help achieve a better understanding of the molecular mechanism of membrane pore formation of Bax protein. In addition, they provide insight into the molecular details of membrane pore formation by peptides and could facilitate the design and production of cytotoxic peptides with improved capabilities to lyse cells such as bacteria or cancer cells.


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Graduation Date





Tatulian, Suren


Master of Science (M.S.)


College of Medicine










Release Date

August 2011

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Masters Thesis (Open Access)

Included in

Biotechnology Commons