Apoptosis is regulated by interaction of viral and cellular BCL-2 family antiapoptotic proteins with various pro-apoptotic proteins, several of which are also members of the BCL-2 family. Cellular protein BNIP3 is a BCL-2 family proapoptotic protein that interacts with viral antiapoptosis proteins such as adenoviruses E1B-19K and EBV-BHRF1 and cellular antiapoptosis proteins such as BCL-2 and BCL-xL. Database searches indicate that the human genome encodes an open reading frame for a protein, BNIP3alpha, that shares substantial homology with BNIP3. The BNIP3alpha open reading frame encodes a protein of 219 amino acids that contains a conserved BH3 domain and a COOH-terminal trans-membrane domain, characteristic of several BCL-2 family proapoptotic proteins. BNIP3alpha interacts with viral antiapoptosis protein E1B-19K and cellular antiapoptosis proteins BCL-2 and BCL-xL. Overexpression of BNIP3alpha in transfected cells results in apoptosis and suppresses the antiapoptosis activity of E1B-19K and BCL-xL. Like BNIP3, BNIP3alpha seems to be predominantly localized in mitochondria. These results suggest that BNIP3alpha is a structural and functional homologue of BNIP3. BNIP3 and BNIP3alpha seem to be the first examples of homologues among the various human proapoptotic proteins. Northern blot analysis reveals that BNIP3alpha is expressed ubiquitously in most human tissues. In contrast, BNIP3 is expressed well in several human tissues and less abundantly in certain tissues such as placenta and lung. These results suggest that although BNIP3 and BNIP3alpha may promote apoptosis simultaneously in most human tissues, BNIP3alpha may play a more universal role.
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