The Ca2+-activated protein phosphatase calcineurin induces apoptosis, but the mechanism is unknown. Calcineurin was found to dephosphorylate BAD, a pro-apoptotic member of the Bcl-2 family, thus enhancing BAD heterodimerization with Bcl-xLand promoting apoptosis. The Ca2+-induced dephosphorylation of BAD correlated with its dissociation from 14-3-3 in the cytosol and translocation to mitochondria where Bcl-xLresides. In hippocampal neurons, L-glutamate, an inducer of Ca2+influx and calcineurin activation, triggered mitochondrial targeting of BAD and apoptosis, which were both suppressible by coexpression of a dominant-inhibitory mutant of calcineurin or pharmacological inhibitors of this phosphatase. Thus, a Ca2+-inducible mechanism for apoptosis induction operates by regulating BAD phosphorylation and localization in cells.
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