B-cell-lymphoma-2 (Bcl-2) is the founding member of the Bcl-2 family of regulator proteins that regulate cell death (apoptosis), by either inhibiting (anti-apoptotic) or inducing (pro-apoptotic) apoptosis. It was the first apoptosis regulator identified in any organism1.

Bcl-2 is the second member of a range of proteins initially described in chromosomal translocations involving chromosomes 14 and 18 in follicular lymphomas. Orthologs (such as Bcl2 in mice) have been identified2 in numerous mammals for which complete genome data are available.

Bcl-2 In Disease

Damage to the Bcl-2 gene has been identified as a cause of a number of cancers, including melanoma, breast, prostate, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and lung cancer, and a possible cause of schizophrenia and autoimmunity. It is also a cause of resistance to cancer treatments3.

Cancer

Cancer can be seen as a disturbance in the homeostatic balance between cell growth and cell death. Over-expression of anti-apoptotic genes, and under-expression of pro-apoptotic genes, can result in the lack of cell death that is characteristic of cancer. An example can be seen in lymphomas.

The over-expression of the anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 protein in lymphocytes alone does not cause cancer. But simultaneous over-expression of Bcl-2 and the proto-oncogene myc may produce aggressive B-cell malignancies including lymphoma4.

In follicular lymphoma, a chromosomal translocation commonly occurs between the fourteenth and the eighteenth chromosomes – t(14;18) – which places the Bcl-2 gene from chromosome 18 next to the immunoglobulin heavy chain locus on chromosome 14. This fusion gene is deregulated, leading to the transcription of excessively high levels of Bcl-2. This decreases the propensity of these cells for apoptosis.

Bcl-2 expression is frequent in small cell lung cancer, accounting for 76% of cases in one study5.

Auto-immune Disease

Apoptosis plays an active role in regulating the immune system. When it is functional, it can cause immune unresponsiveness to self-antigens via both central and peripheral tolerance.

In the case of defective apoptosis, it may contribute to etiological aspects of autoimmune diseases. The autoimmune disease type 1 diabetes can be caused by defective apoptosis, which leads to aberrant T cell AICD and defective peripheral tolerance.

Due to the fact that dendritic cells are the immune system’s most important antigen-presenting cells, their activity must be tightly regulated by mechanisms such as apoptosis. Researchers have found that mice containing dendritic cells that are Bim -/-, thus unable to induce effective apoptosis, suffer autoimmune diseases more so than those that have normal dendritic cells.

Other studies have shown that dendritic cell lifespan may be partly controlled by a timer dependent on anti-apoptotic Bcl-2.

Physiological Function Of Bcl-2

BCL-2 is localized to the outer membrane of mitochondria, where it plays an important role in promoting cellular survival and inhibiting the actions of pro-apoptotic proteins.

The pro-apoptotic proteins in the BCL-2 family, including Bax and Bak, normally act on the mitochondrial membrane to promote permeabilization and release of cytochrome C and ROS, that are important signals in the apoptosis cascade. These pro-apoptotic proteins are in turn activated by BH3-only proteins, and are inhibited by the function of BCL-2 and its relative BCL-Xl6.

There are additional non-canonical roles of BCL-2 that are being explored. BCL-2 is known to regulate mitochondrial dynamics, and is involved in the regulation of mitochondrial fusion and fission.

Additionally, in pancreatic beta-cells, BCL-2 and BCL-Xl are known to be involved in controlling metabolic activity and insulin secretion, with inhibition of BCL-2/Xl showing increasing metabolic activity, but also additional ROS production; this suggests it has a protective metabolic effect in conditions of high demand.


  1. Kelly GL, Strasser A (2020). Toward Targeting Antiapoptotic MCL-1 for Cancer Therapy. Annual Review of Cancer Biology. 4: 299–313. ↩︎

  2. Petros AM, Medek A, Nettesheim DG, Kim DH, Yoon HS, Swift K, Matayoshi ED, Oltersdorf T, Fesik SW (March 2001). Solution structure of the antiapoptotic protein bcl-2. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 98 (6): 3012–7. ↩︎

  3. Garcia-Aranda M, Perez-Ruiz E, Redondo M (December 2018). Bcl-2 Inhibition to Overcome Resistance to Chemo- and Immunotherapy. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 19 (12): 3950. ↩︎

  4. Otake Y, Soundararajan S, Sengupta TK, Kio EA, Smith JC, Pineda-Roman M, Stuart RK, Spicer EK, Fernandes DJ (April 2007). Overexpression of nucleolin in chronic lymphocytic leukemia cells induces stabilization of bcl2 mRNA. Blood. 109 (7): 3069–75. ↩︎

  5. Kaiser, U.; Schilli, M.; Haag, U.; Neumann, K.; Kreipe, H.; Kogan, E.; Havemann, K. (1996). Expression of bcl-2 — protein in small cell lung cancer. Lung Cancer. 15 (1): 31–40. ↩︎

  6. Hardwick JM, Soane L (2013). Multiple functions of BCL-2 family proteins. Cold Spring Harb Perspect Biol. 5 (2): a008722 ↩︎


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