In Situ Characterization of Bak Clusters Responsible for Cell Death Using Single Molecule Localization Microscopy
Apoptosis plays a pivotal role in development and tissue homeostasis in multicellular organisms. Clustering of Bak proteins on the mitochondrial outer membrane is responsible for the induction of apoptosis by evoking a release of pro-apoptotic proteins from mitochondria into cytosol. However, how the protein cluster permeabilizes the mitochondrial membrane remains unclear because elucidation of the cluster characteristics such as size and protein density has been hampered by the diffraction-limited resolution of light microscopy. Here, we describe an approach to quantitatively characterize Bak clusters in situ based on single molecule localization. We showed that Bak proteins form densely packed clusters at the nanoscale on mitochondria during apoptosis. Quantitative analysis based on the localization of each Bak protein revealed that the density of Bak protein is uniform among clusters although the cluster size is highly heterogeneous. Our approach provides unprecedented information on the size and protein density of Bak clusters possibly critical for the permeabilization and is applicable for the analysis of different cluster formations.