An enhanced anti-apoptotic capacity of tumor cells plays an important role in the process of breakpoint cluster region/Abelson tyrosine kinase gene (BCR/ABL)-independent imatinib resistance. We have previously demonstrated that brain expressed X-linked 1 (BEX1) was silenced in secondary imatinib-resistant K562 cells and that re-expression of BEX1 can restore imatinib sensitivity resulting in the induction of apoptosis. However, the mechanism by which BEX1 executes its proapoptotic function remains unknown. We identified B-cell lymphoma 2 (BCL-2) as a BEX1-interacting protein using a yeast two-hybrid screen. The interaction between BEX1 and BCL-2 was subsequently confirmed by co-immunoprecipitation assays. Like BCL-2, BEX1 was localized to the mitochondria. The region between 33K and 64Q on BEX1 is important for its localization to the mitochondria and its ability to interact with BCL-2. Additionally, we found that this region is essential for BEX1-regulated imatinib-induced apoptosis. Furthermore, we demonstrated that the interaction between BCL-2 and BEX1 promotes imatinib-induced apoptosis by suppressing the formation of anti-apoptotic BCL-2/BCL-2-associated X protein (BAX) heterodimers. Our results revealed an interaction between BEX1 and BCL-2 and a novel mechanism of imatinib resistance mediated by the BEX1/BCL-2 pathway.
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