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Activation of the cell-death mediator Bak commits a cell to mitochondrial apoptosis. The initial steps that govern Bak activation are poorly understood. To further clarify these pivotal events, we have investigated whether post-translational modifications of Bak impinge on its activation potential. In this study, we report that on apoptotic stimulation Bak undergoes dephosphorylation at tyrosine residue 108 (Y108), a critical event that is necessary but not sufficient for Bak activation, but is required both for early exposure of the occluded N-terminal domain and multimerisation. RNA interference (RNAi) screening identified non-receptor tyrosine phosphatases (PTPNs) required for Bak dephosphorylation and apoptotic induction through chemotherapeutic agents. Specifically, modulation of PTPN5 protein expression by siRNA and overexpression directly affected both Bak-Y108 phosphorylation and the initiation of Bak activation. We further show that MEK/ERK signalling directly affects Bak phosphorylation through inhibition of PTPN5 to promote cell survival. We propose a model of Bak activation in which the regulation of Bak dephosphorylation constitutes the initial step in the activation process, which reveals a previously unsuspected mechanism controlling the initiation of mitochondrial apoptosis.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





3853 - 3868


Amino Acid Sequence, Animals, Apoptosis, Cell Line, Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases, Humans, Mitochondria, Molecular Sequence Data, Phosphorylation, Protein Tyrosine Phosphatases, Non-Receptor, Serine, Threonine, Tyrosine, bcl-2 Homologous Antagonist-Killer Protein