Genetic analysis of programmed cell death in Drosophila reveals many similarities with mammals. Heretofore, a missing link in the fly has been the absence of any Bcl-2/Bax family members, proteins that function in mammals as regulators of mitochondrial cytochrome c release. A Drosophila homologue of the human killer protein Bok (DBok) was identified. The predicted structure of DBok is similar to pore-forming Bcl-2/Bax family members. DBok induces apoptosis in insect and human cells, which is suppressible by anti-apoptotic human Bcl-2 family proteins. A caspase inhibitor suppressed DBok-induced apoptosis but did not prevent DBok-induced cell death. Moreover, DBok targets mitochondria and triggers cytochrome c release through a caspase-independent mechanism. These characteristics of DBok reveal evolutionary conservation of cell death mechanisms in flies and humans.
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