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The pseudokinase, MLKL (mixed-lineage kinase domain-like), is the most terminal obligatory component of the necroptosis cell death pathway known. Phosphorylation of the MLKL pseudokinase domain by the protein kinase, receptor interacting protein kinase-3 (RIPK3), is known to be the key step in MLKL activation. This phosphorylation event is believed to trigger a molecular switch, leading to exposure of the N-terminal four-helix bundle (4HB) domain of MLKL, its oligomerization, membrane translocation and ultimately cell death. To examine how well this process is evolutionarily conserved, we analysed the function of MLKL orthologues. Surprisingly, and unlike their mouse, horse and frog counterparts, human, chicken and stickleback 4HB domains were unable to induce cell death when expressed in murine fibroblasts. Forced dimerization of the human MLKL 4HB domain overcame this defect and triggered cell death in human and mouse cell lines. Furthermore, recombinant proteins from mouse, frog, human and chicken MLKL, all of which contained a 4HB domain, permeabilized liposomes, and were most effective on those designed to mimic plasma membrane composition. These studies demonstrate that the membrane-permeabilization function of the 4HB domain is evolutionarily conserved, but reveal that execution of necroptotic death by it relies on additional factors that are poorly conserved even among closely related species.

Original publication




Journal article

Publication Date





1185 - 1197


Animals, Apoptosis, Cell Line, Cell Membrane Permeability, Chickens, Evolution, Molecular, HT29 Cells, HeLa Cells, Horses, Humans, Liposomes, Mice, Necrosis, Phosphorylation, Protein Domains, Protein Kinases, Receptor-Interacting Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases, Recombinant Proteins