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The c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) signaling pathway plays a critical role in mediating apoptosis in the nervous system; however, the mechanisms by which JNK triggers neuronal apoptosis remain incompletely understood. Recent studies suggest that in addition to inducing transcription of pro-apoptotic genes, JNK also directly activates the cell death machinery. Here, we report that JNK catalyzed the phosphorylation of the BH3-only protein Bcl-2 interacting mediator of cell death (BimEL) at serine 65, both in vitro and in vivo. The JNK-induced phosphorylation of BimEL at serine 65 promoted the apoptotic effect of BimEL in primary cerebellar granule neurons. We also characterized the role of the JNK-BimEL signaling pathway in apoptosis that was triggered by overexpression of the p75 neurotrophin receptor (p75NTR). We found that activation of p75NTR induced the JNK-dependent phosphorylation of endogenous BimEL at serine 65 in cells. The genetic knockdown of BimEL by RNA interference or the expression of a dominant interfering form of BimEL significantly impaired the ability of activated p75NTR to induce apoptosis. Together, these results suggest that JNK-induced phosphorylation of BimEL at serine 65 mediates p75NTR-induced apoptosis. Our findings define a novel mechanism by which a death-receptor pathway directly activates the mitochondrial apoptotic machinery.

Original publication




Journal article


J Neurosci

Publication Date





8762 - 8770


Amino Acid Sequence, Animals, Apoptosis, Cell Line, Cells, Cultured, Humans, JNK Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases, MAP Kinase Kinase Kinase 1, MAP Kinase Signaling System, Molecular Sequence Data, Neurons, PC12 Cells, Phosphorylation, Rats, Receptor, Nerve Growth Factor, Receptors, Nerve Growth Factor, Serine