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The Role of 18 kDa Mitochondrial Translocator Protein (TSPO) in Programmed Cell Death, and Effects of Steroids on TSPO Expression

[ Vol. 12 , Issue. 4 ]


L. Veenman and M. Gavish   Pages 398 - 412 ( 15 )


The mitochondrial 18 kDa Translocator Protein (TSPO) was first detected by its capability to bind benzodiazepines in peripheral tissues and later also in glial cells in the brain, hence its previous most common name peripheral benzodiazepine receptor (PBR). TSPO has been implicated in various functions, including apoptosis and steroidogenesis, among others. Various endogenous TSPO ligands have been proposed, for example: Diazepam Binding Inhibitor (DBI), triakontatetraneuropeptide (TTN), phospholipase A2 (PLA2), and protoporphyrin IX. However, the functional implications of interactions between the TSPO and its putative endogenous ligands still have to be firmly established. The TSPO has been suggested to interact with a mitochondrial protein complex, summarized as mitochondrial membrane permeability transition pore (MPTP), which is considered to regulate the mitochondrial membrane potential (ΔΨm). In addition, the TSPO is associated with several other proteins. The associations of the TSPO with these various proteins at the mitochondrial membranes have been attributed to functions such as apoptosis, steroidogenesis, phosphorylation, reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation, ATP production, and collapse of the ΔΨm. Interestingly, while TSPO is known to play a role in the modulation of steroid production, in turn, steroids are also known to affect TSPO expression. As with the putative endogenous TSPO ligands, the effects of steroids on TSPO functions still have to be established. In any case, steroid – TSPO interactions occur in organs and tissues as diverse as the reproductive system, kidney, and brain. In general, the steroid – TSPO interactions are thought to be part of stress responses, but may also be essential for reproductive events, embryonic development, and responses to injury, including brain injury. The present review focuses on the role of TSPO in cell death i.e. the notion that enhanced expression and / or activation of the TSPO leads to cell death, and the potential of steroids to regulate TSPO expression and activation.


Adenine nucleotide transporter (ANT), Bcl2, brain trauma, cholesterol, creatine kinase, cyclophylin D, hexokinase, voltage dependent anion channel (VDAC)


Department of Molecular Pharmacology, Rappaport Family Institute for Research in the Medical Sciences, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, P.O. Box 9649, Bat-Galim, Haifa 31096, Israel.

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