The E1B 19K/Bcl-2-binding protein Nip3 is a dimeric mitochondrial protein that activates apoptosis.
Nip3 (nineteen kD interacting protein-3) is an E1B 19K and Bcl-2 binding protein of unknown function. Nip3 is detected as both a 60- and 30-kD protein in vivo and in vitro and exhibits strong homologous interaction in a yeast two-hybrid system indicating that it can homodimerize. Nip3 is expressed in mitochondria and a mutant (Nip3(163)) lacking the putative transmembrane domain and COOH terminus does not dimerize or localize to mitochondria. Transient transfection of epitope-tagged Nip3 in Rat-1 fibroblasts and MCF-7 breast carcinoma induces apoptosis within 12 h while cells transfected with the Nip3(163) mutant have a normal phenotype, suggesting that mitochondrial localization is necessary for induction of cell death. Nip3 overexpression increases the sensitivity to apoptosis induced by granzyme B and topoisomerase I and II inhibitors. After transfection, both Nip3 and Nip3(163) protein levels decrease steadily over 48 h indicating that the protein is rapidly degraded and this occurs in the absence of cell death. Bcl-2 overexpression initially delays the onset of apoptosis induced by Nip3 but the resistance is completely overcome in longer periods of incubation. Nip3 protein levels are much higher and persist longer in Bcl-2 expressing cells. In conclusion, Nip3 is an apoptosis-inducing dimeric mitochondrial protein that can overcome Bcl-2 suppression.