The Bcl-2 family proteins are key regulators of apoptosis in human diseases and cancers. Though known to block apoptosis, Bcl-2 promotes cell death through an undefined mechanism. Here, we show that Bcl-2 interacts with orphan nuclear receptor Nur77 (also known as TR3), which is required for cancer cell apoptosis induced by many antineoplastic agents. The interaction is mediated by the N-terminal loop region of Bcl-2 and is required for Nur77 mitochondrial localization and apoptosis. Nur77 binding induces a Bcl-2 conformational change that exposes its BH3 domain, resulting in conversion of Bcl-2 from a protector to a killer. These findings establish the coupling of Nur77 nuclear receptor with the Bcl-2 apoptotic machinery and demonstrate that Bcl-2 can manifest opposing phenotypes, induced by interactions with proteins such as Nur77, suggesting novel strategies for regulating apoptosis in cancer and other diseases.
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