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Hum Exp Toxicol. 1999 Jul;18(7):460-70.

Stimulation of survival capacity in heat shocked cells by subsequent exposure to minute amounts of chemical stressors; role of similarity in hsp-inducing effects.

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Department of Molecular Cell Biology, Utrecht University, The Netherlands.


A brief and moderate heat shock to Reuber H35 hepatoma cells causes a rapid increase in the synthesis of heat shock proteins (hsp) and initiates the development of thermotolerance, which results in an increased ability to survive exposure to otherwise lethal temperatures. We now demonstrate that low doses of various chemical stressors (arsenite, cadmium, mercury, lead, copper, menadione and diethyldithiocarbamate (ddtc)), at concentrations that do not exert any effect in control cultures, are able to enhance the synthesis of hsps and to stimulate the development of thermotolerance when applied to cultures which were pretreated with a mild heat shock. The degree of stimulation appears to be stressor-specific, which is not only observed in the ensuing development of thermotolerance but also in the enhancement of the heat shock-induced synthesis of stress proteins. The different hsps that show an enhanced induction when heat shocked cultures are exposed to the various secondary applied low doses of chemical stressors, were found to resemble the hsp pattern that is characteristic for the secondary stressor and not for the initial heat shock. In other words, the nature of the post-treatment determines the observed pattern of enhanced synthesis of hsps. In order to analyze the origin of the stimulation of survival capacity by low doses of the mentioned stressors, we studied whether the degree of stimulation is determined by the degree of similarity between the overall stress response to heat shock and to the second stress condition when applied singly. The degree in which low doses of chemical stressors stimulate tolerance development and enhance the synthesis of hsps in cells that were previously heat shocked, appears to be related to the degree of similarity in the hsp pattern induced by both stressors. Our results support the notion that low doses of toxic compounds may, under certain conditions, have beneficial effects related to a stimulation of endogenous cytoprotective mechanisms.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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