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Bcl-2 protein family is constituted by multidomain members originally identified as modulators of programmed cell death and whose expression is frequently misbalanced in cancer cells. The lead member Bcl-2 and its homologue Bcl-xL proteins are characterized by the presence of all four conserved BH domain and exert their antiapoptotic role mainly through the involvement of BH1, BH2 and BH3 homology domains, that mediate the interaction with the proapoptotic members of the same Bcl-2 family. The N-terminal BH4 domain of Bcl-2 and Bcl-xL is responsible for the interaction with other proteins that do not belong to Bcl-2 protein family. Beyond a classical role in inhibiting apoptosis, BH4 domain has been characterized as a crucial regulator of other important cellular functions attributed to Bcl-2 and Bcl-xL, including proliferation, autophagy, differentiation, DNA repair, cell migration, tumor progression and angiogenesis. During the last two decades a strong effort has been made to dissect the molecular pathways involved the capability of BH4 domain to regulate the canonical antiapoptotic and the non-canonical activities of Bcl-2 and Bcl-xL, creating the basis for the development of novel anticancer agents targeting this domain. Indeed, recent evidences obtained on in vitro and in vivo model of different cancer histotypes are confirming the promising therapeutic potential of BH4 domain inhibitors supporting their future employment as a novel anticancer strategy. © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email:


Chiara Gabellini, Daniela Trisciuoglio, Donatella Del Bufalo. Non-canonical roles of Bcl-2 and Bcl-xL proteins: relevance of BH4 domain. Carcinogenesis. 2017 Jun 01;38(6):579-587

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PMID: 28203756

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