Cytochrome c causes pore formation in cardiolipin-containing membranes

Chris L. Bergstrom, Paul A. Beales, Yang Lv, T. Kyle Vanderlick, John T. Groves

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

110 Scopus citations


The release of cytochrome c from mitochondria is a key signaling mechanism in apoptosis. Although extramitochondrial proteins are thought to initiate this release, the exact mechanisms remain unclear. Cytochrome c (cyt c) binds to and penetrates lipid structures containing the inner mitochondrial membrane lipid cardioli-pin (CL), leading to protein conformational changes and increased peroxidase activity. We describe here a direct visualization of a fluorescent cyt c crossing synthetic, CL-containing membranes in the absence of other proteins. We observed strong binding of cyt c to CL in phospholipid vesicles and bursts of cyt c leakage across the membrane. Passive fluorescent markers such as carboxyfluores-cein and a 10-kDa dextran polymer crossed the membrane simultaneously with cyt c, although larger dextrans did not. The data show that these bursts result from the opening of lipid pores formed by the cyt c-CL conjugate. Pore formation and cyt c leakage were significantly reduced in the presence of ATP. We suggest a model, consistent with these findings, in which the formation of toroidal lipid pores is driven by initial cyt c-induced negative spontaneous membrane curvature and subsequent protein unfolding interactions. Our results suggest that the CL-cyt c interaction may be sufficient to allow cyt c permeation of mitochondrial membranes and that cyt c may contribute to its own escape from mitochondria during apoptosis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6269-6274
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number16
StatePublished - Apr 16 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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