Apoptotic role of TGF-β mediated by Smad4 mitochondria translocation and cytochrome c oxidase subunit II interaction

Lijuan Pang, Tao Qiu, Xu Cao, Mei Wan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Smad4, originally isolated from the human chromosome 18q21, is a key factor in transducing the signals of the TGF-β superfamily of growth hormones and plays a pivotal role in mediating antimitogenic and proapoptotic effects of TGF-β, but the mechanisms by which Smad4 induces apoptosis are elusive. Here we report that Smad4 directly translocates to the mitochondria of apoptotic cells. Smad4 gene silencing by siRNA inhibits TGF-β-induced apoptosis in Hep3B cells and UV-induced apoptosis in PANC-1 cells. Cell fractionation assays demonstrated that a fraction of Smad4 translocates to mitochondria after long time TGF-β treatment or UV exposure, during which the cells were under apoptosis. Smad4 mitochondria translocation during apoptosis was also confirmed by fluorescence observation of Smad4 colocalization with MitoTracker Red. We searched for mitochondria proteins that have physical interactions with Smad4 using yeast two-hybrid screening approach. DNA sequence analysis identified 34 positive clones, five of which encoded subunits in mitochondria complex IV, i.e., one clone encoded cytochrome c oxidase COXII, three clones encoded COXIII and one clone encoded COXVb. Strong interaction between Smad4 with COXII, an important apoptosis regulator, was verified in yeast by β-gal activity assays and in mammalian cells by immunoprecipitation assays. Further, mitochondrial portion of cells was isolated and the interaction between COXII and Smad4 in mitochondria upon TGF-β treatment or UV exposure was confirmed. Importantly, targeting Smad4 to mitochondria using import leader fusions enhanced TGF-β-induced apoptosis. Collectively, the results suggest that Smad4 promote apoptosis of the cells through its mitochondrial translocation and association with mitochondria protein COXII.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1608-1620
Number of pages13
JournalExperimental cell research
Issue number11
StatePublished - Jul 1 2011


  • Apoptosis
  • Cytochrome c oxidase
  • Mitochondria
  • Smad4/DPC4
  • TGF-β

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology

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