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The Role of BCL-2 Family Members in Acute Kidney Injury

  • Steven C. Borkan
    Correspondence
    Address reprint requests to Steven C. Borkan, MD, Evans Biomedical Research Center, Room 546, Boston University Medical Center, 650 Albany St, Boston, MA 02118.
    Affiliations
    Evans Biomedical Research Center, Boston University Medical Center, Boston, MA
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      Summary

      B-cell lymphoma 2 (BCL-2) family proteins gather at the biologic cross-roads of renal cell survival: the outer mitochondrial membrane. Despite shared sequence and structural features, members of this conserved protein family constantly antagonize each other in a life-and-death battle. BCL-2 members innocently reside within renal cells until activated or de-activated by physiologic stresses caused by common nephrotoxins, transient ischemia, or acute glomerulonephritis. Recent experimental data not only illuminate the intricate mechanisms of apoptosis, the most familiar form of BCL-2–mediated cell death, but emphasizes their newfound roles in necrosis, necroptosis, membrane pore transition regulated necrosis, and other forms of acute cell demise. A major paradigm shift in non–cell death roles of the BCL-2 family has occurred. BCL-2 proteins also regulate critical daily renal cell housekeeping functions including cell metabolism, autophagy (an effective means for recycling cell components), mitochondrial morphology (organelle fission and fusion), as well as mitochondrial biogenesis. This article considers new concepts in the biochemical and structural regulation of BCL-2 proteins that contribute to membrane pore permeabilization, a universal feature of cell death. Despite these advances, persistent BCL-2 family mysteries continue to challenge cell biologists. Given their interface with many intracellular functions, it is likely that BCL-2 proteins determine cell viability under many pathologic circumstances relevant to the nephrologist and, as a consequence, represent an ideal therapeutic target.

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