The release of proapoptotic proteins from the intermembrane space of mitochondria is an early critical step in many pathways to apoptosis. Induction of the mitochondrial permeability transition pore (PTP) was suggested to be the mechanism of the release of soluble mitochondrial intermembrane proteins (SIMP) in apoptosis. However, several studies suggested that proapoptotic proteins (e.g. Bax and Bid) can induce the release of SIMP (e.g. cytochrome c (cyt c) and adenylate kinase 2 (AK2)) in vivo and in vitro independent of PTP. We have found that a number of structurally diverse polycations, such as aliphatic polyamines (e.g. spermine and to a lesser extent spermidine), aminoglycosides (e.g. streptomycin, gentamicin and neomycin), and cytotoxic peptides (e.g. melittin), induce the release of SIMP from liver mitochondria, in vitro. All the polycations released AK2 together with cyt c, suggesting that rupture of the outer membrane is a common mechanism of cyt c release by these polycations. Several polycations (e.g. spermine, spermidine and neomycin) induced SIMP release without inducing significant swelling, and this release was not inhibited significantly by the PTP inhibitor cyclosporin. In contrast, under the same conditions, streptomycin and melittin induced swelling and SIMP release that was inhibited strongly by cyclosporin. Gentamicin-induced swelling and release of SIMP were partially inhibited by cyclosporin. The affinity of polyamines to the anionic phospholipids of the mitochondrial membranes (spermine=neomycin>gentamicin>streptomycin=spermidine) correlated roughly with their ability to induce PTP-independent release of SIMP, which suggests that the binding of polycations to the anionic phospholipids of the outer mitochondrial membrane facilitates the rupture of this membrane. However, some polycations facilitated the induction of PTP, possibly by binding to cardiolipin on the inner membrane. This dual mechanism may be relevant to the induction of SIMP release in apoptosis.
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