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J Biosci. 2007 Apr;32(3):595-610.

Heat shock genes - integrating cell survival and death.

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  • 1Cytogenetics Laboratory, Department of Zoology, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi 221005, India.


Heat shock induced gene expression and other cellular responses help limit the damage caused by stress and thus facilitate cellular recovery. Cellular damage also triggers apoptotic cell death through several pathways. This paper briefly reviews interactions of the major heat shock proteins with components of the apoptotic pathways. Hsp90, which acts as a chaperone for unstable signal transducers to keep them poised for activation, interacts with RIP and Akt and promotes NF-kappa B mediated inhibition of apoptosis; in addition it also blocks some steps in the apoptotic pathways. Hsp70 is mostly anti-apoptotic and acts at several levels like inhibition of translocation of Bax into mitochondria, release of cytochrome c from mitochondria,formation of apoptosome and inhibition of activation of initiator caspases. Hsp70 also modulates JNK,NF-kappa B and Akt signaling pathways in the apoptotic cascade. In contrast, Hsp60 has both anti-and pro-apoptotic roles. Cytosolic Hsp60 prevents translocation of the pro-apoptotic protein Bax into mitochondria and thus promotes cell survival but it also promotes maturation of procaspase-3,essential for caspase mediated cell death. Our recent in vivo studies show that RNAi for the Hsp60D in Drosophila melanogaster prevents induced apoptosis. Hsp27 exerts its anti-apoptotic influence by inhibiting cytochrome c and TNF-mediated cell death. alpha beta crystallin suppresses caspase-8 and cytochrome c mediated activation of caspase-3. Studies in our laboratory also reveal that absence or reduced levels of the developmentally active as well as stress induced non-coding hsr omega transcripts, which are known to sequester diverse hnRNPs and related nuclear RNA-binding proteins,block induced apoptosis in Drosophila. Modulation of the apoptotic pathways by Hsps reflects their roles as "weak links" between various "hubs" in cellular networks. On the other hand, non-coding RNAs, by virtue of their potential to bind with multiple proteins,can act as "hubs" in these networks. In view of the integrative nature of living systems, it is not surprising that stress-induced genes,generally believed to primarily function in cell survival pathways, inhibit or even promote cell death pathways at multiple levels to ensure homeostasis at cell and/or organism level. The heat shock genes obviously do much more than merely help cells survive stress.

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