Inhibition of Bcl-xL prevents pro-death actions of ?N-Bcl-xL at the mitochondrial inner membrane during glutamate excitotoxicity. Academic Article uri icon


  • ABT-737 is a pharmacological inhibitor of the anti-apoptotic activity of B-cell lymphoma-extra large (Bcl-xL) protein; it promotes apoptosis of cancer cells by occupying the BH3-binding pocket. We have shown previously that ABT-737 lowers cell metabolic efficiency by inhibiting ATP synthase activity. However, we also found that ABT-737 protects rodent brain from ischemic injury in vivo by inhibiting formation of the pro-apoptotic, cleaved form of Bcl-xL, ?N-Bcl-xL. We now report that a high concentration of ABT-737 (1??M), or a more selective Bcl-xL inhibitor WEHI-539 (5??M) enhances glutamate-induced neurotoxicity while a low concentration of ABT-737 (10?nM) or WEHI-539 (10?nM) is neuroprotective. High ABT-737 markedly increased ?N-Bcl-xL formation, aggravated glutamate-induced death and resulted in the loss of mitochondrial membrane potential and decline in ATP production. Although the usual cause of death by ABT-737 is thought to be related to activation of Bax at the outer mitochondrial membrane due to sequestration of Bcl-xL, we now find that low ABT-737 not only prevents Bax activation, but it also inhibits the decline in mitochondrial potential produced by glutamate toxicity or by direct application of ?N-Bcl-xL to mitochondria. Loss of mitochondrial inner membrane potential is also prevented by cyclosporine A, implicating the mitochondrial permeability transition pore in death aggravated by ?N-Bcl-xL. In keeping with this, we find that glutamate/?N-Bcl-xL-induced neuronal death is attenuated by depletion of the ATP synthase c-subunit. C-subunit depletion prevented depolarization of mitochondrial membranes in ?N-Bcl-xL expressing cells and substantially prevented the morphological change in neurites associated with glutamate/?N-Bcl-xL insult. Our findings suggest that low ABT-737 or WEHI-539 promotes survival during glutamate toxicity by preventing the effect of ?N-Bcl-xL on mitochondrial inner membrane depolarization, highlighting ?N-Bcl-xL as an important therapeutic target in injured brain.

publication date

  • November 2017