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Mech Ageing Dev. 2004 Apr;125(4):325-35.

Increased expression of heat shock proteins in rat brain during aging: relationship with mitochondrial function and glutathione redox state.

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  • 1Section of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Medicine, University of Catania, Viale Andrea Doria No. 6, 95100 Catania, Italy.


It is generally recognized that lipid peroxides play an important role in the pathogenesis of several diseases and that sulfhydryl groups are critically involved in cellular defense against endogenous or exogenous oxidants. Recent evidence indicates that lipid peroxides directly participate in induction of cytoprotective proteins, such as heat shock proteins (Hsps), which play a central role in the cellular mechanisms of stress tolerance. Oxidative damage plays a crucial role in the brain aging process and induction of Hsps is critically utilized by brain cells in the repair process following various pathogenic insults. In the present study, we investigated, in rats 6, 12, and 28 months old, the role of heat shock expression on aging-induced changes in mitochondrial and antioxidant redox status. In the brain expression of Hsp72 and Hsc70 increased with age up to 28 months; at this age the maximum induction was observed in the hippocampus and substantia nigra followed by cerebellum, cortex, septum and striatum. Hsps induction was associated with significant changes in glutathione (GSH) redox state and HNE levels. Interestingly, a significant positive correlation between decrease in GSH and increase in Hsp72 was observed in all brain regions examined during aging. Analysis of mitochondrial complexes showed a progressive decrease of Complex I activity and mRNA expression in the hippocampus and a significant decrease of Complex I and IV activities in the substantia nigra and septum. Our results sustain a role for GSH redox state in Hsp expression. Increase of Hsp expression promotes the functional recovery of oxidatively damaged proteins and protects cells from progressive age-related cell damage. Conceivably, heat shock signal pathway by increasing cellular stress resistance may represent a crucial mechanism of defence against free radical-induced damage occurring in aging brain and in neurodegenerative disorders.

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