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Front. Genet. | doi: 10.3389/fgene.2019.00804

Modulation of the Apoptosis Gene Bcl-x Function through Alternative Splicing

  • 1University of Exeter, United Kingdom

Apoptosis plays a vital role in cell homeostasis during development and disease. Bcl-x, a member of the Bcl-2 family of proteins, is a mitochondrial transmembrane protein that functions to regulate the intrinsic apoptosis pathway. An alternative splicing (AS) event in exon 2 of Bcl-x results in two isoforms of Bcl-x with antagonistic effects on cell survival: Bcl-xL (long isoform), which is anti-apoptotic, and Bcl-xS (short isoform), which is pro-apoptotic. Bcl-xL is the most abundant Bcl-x protein and functions to inhibit apoptosis by a number of different mechanisms including inhibition of Bax. In contrast, Bcl-xS can directly bind to and inhibit the anti-apoptotic Bcl-xL and Bcl-2 proteins, resulting in the release of the pro-apoptotic Bak. There are multiple splice factors and signaling pathways that influence the Bcl-xL/Bcl-xS splicing ratio, including SR proteins, hnRNPs, transcription factors, and cytokines. Dysregulation of the AS of Bcl-x has been implicated in cancer and diabetes. In cancer, the upregulation of Bcl-xL expression in tumor cells can result in resistance to chemotherapeutic agents. On the other hand, dysregulation of Bcl-x AS to promote Bcl-xS expression has been shown to be detrimental to pancreatic β-cells in diabetes, resulting in β-cell apoptosis. Therefore, manipulation of the splice factors, transcription factors, and signaling pathways that modulate this splicing event is fast emerging as a therapeutic avenue in the treatment of cancer and diabetes.

Keywords: Alternative splicing (AS), Bcl-x, Apoptosis, RNA binding protein, isoform

Received: 17 Jun 2019; Accepted: 31 Jul 2019.

Copyright: © 2019 Stevens and Oltean. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Mx. Sebastian Oltean, University of Exeter, Exeter, EX4 4PY, England, United Kingdom, s.oltean@exeter.ac.uk