A folding variant of human α-lactalbumin induces mitochondrial permeability transition in isolated mitochondria


B. Zhivotovsky, Institute of Environmental Medicine, Division of Toxicology, Karolinska Institutet, Box 210, S-171 77 Stockholm, Sweden. Fax: +46 832 9041, Tel.: +46 8728 7588, E-mail: Boris.Zhivotovsky@imm.ki.se


A human milk fraction containing multimeric α-lactalbumin (MAL) is able to kill cells via apoptosis. MAL is a protein complex of a folding variant of α-lactalbumin and lipids. Previous results have shown that upon treatment of transformed cells, MAL localizes to the mitochondria and cytochrome c is released into the cytosol. This is followed by activation of the caspase cascade. In this study, we further investigated the involvement of mitochondria in apoptosis induced by the folding variant of α-lactalbumin. Addition of MAL to isolated rat liver mitochondria induced a loss of the mitochondrial membrane potential (ΔΨm), mitochondrial swelling and the release of cytochrome c. These changes were Ca2+-dependent and were prevented by cyclosporin A, an inhibitor of mitochondrial permeability transition. MAL also increased the rate of state 4 respiration in isolated mitochondria by exerting an uncoupling effect. This effect was due to the presence of fatty acids in the MAL complex because it was abolished completely by BSA. BSA delayed, but failed to prevent, mitochondrial swelling as well as dissipation of ΔΨm, indicating that the fatty acid content of MAL facilitated, rather than caused, these effects. Similar results were obtained with HAMLET (human α-lactalbumin made lethal to tumour cells), which is native α-lactalbumin converted in vitro to the apoptosis-inducing folding variant of the protein in complex with oleic acid. Our findings demonstrate that a folding variant of α-lactalbumin induces mitochondrial permeability transition with subsequent cytochrome c release, which in transformed cells may lead to activation of the caspase cascade and apoptotic death.