Apoptosis has become recognized as a crucial mechanism involved in a wide range of physiological and pathological processes. Following an initial pro-apoptotic signal, controlling phases allow the cell to reinforce or downgrade signals leading to the irrevocable entry into apoptosis. Bak (Bcl-2-antagonist killer) is a mitochondrial pore-forming pro-apoptotic effector inhibited through titration by the anti-apoptotic protein Mcl-1 (Myeloid cell leukemia-1). Viruses have taken advantage of proteasome-dependent degradation of Bak as a mechanism to prevent apoptosis in infected cells. It is not clear however whether regulation of Bak protein level is involved in other physiological processes. In this report, we show that Mcl-1 level is paralleled by Bak while a Mcl-1 non-interacting mutant of Bak does not accumulate in cells. This mechanism is proteasome independent. Following serum withdrawal, Bak accumulation becomes independent of Mcl-1 level and cells are sensitized to pro-apoptotic stimuli. Based on these results, we propose that regulation of Mcl-1-Bak steochiometry is a control mechanism used as a checkpoint to prevent or allow entry into apoptosis. © 2006 Springer Science + Business Media, LLC.