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Immunopharmacology. 2000 Jul 25;48(3):299-302.

Stress proteins and the immune response.

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Departments of Medicine and Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of New Mexico School of Medicine, ACC 5th Floor, Albuquerque, NM 87131, USA.


The heat shock or stress response is one of the most highly conserved adaptive responses in nature. In single cell organisms, the stress response confers tolerance to a variety of stresses including hyperthermia, hyperoxia, hypoxia, and other perturbations, which alter protein synthesis. This tolerance phenomenon is also extremely important in the multicellular organism, resulting in not only thermal tolerance, but also resistance to stresses of the whole organism such as ischemia-reperfusion injury. Moreover, recent data indicates that these stress proteins have the ability to modulate the cellular immune response. Although the terms heat shock proteins (HSPs) and stress proteins are often used interchangeably, the term stress proteins includes the HSPs, the glucose-regulated proteins (GRPs) and ubiquitin. The stress proteins may be grouped by molecular weight ranging from the large 110 kDa HSP110 to ubiquitin at 8 kDa. These proteins serve as cellular chaperones, participating in protein synthesis and transport through the various cellular compartments. Because these proteins have unique cellular localizations, the chaperone function of the stress proteins often involves a transfer of peptides between stress proteins as the peptide is moved between cellular compartments. For example, HSP70 is a cytosolic and nuclear chaperone, which is critical for the transfer of cellular peptides in the mitochondrion through a hand-off that involves mitochondrial HSP60 at the inner mitochondrial membrane. Similarly, cytosolic proteins are transferred from HSP70 to gp96 as they move into the endoplasmic reticulum. The central role of the stress proteins in the transfer of peptides through the cell may be responsible for the recently recognized importance of the stress proteins in the modulation of the immune system [Feder, M.E., Hofmann, G.E., 1999. Heat-shock proteins, molecular chaperones, and the stress response: evolutionary and ecological physiology. Annu. Rev. Physiol. 61, 243-282.]. This importance in immune regulation is best addressed using Matzinger's model of the immune response - The Danger Theory of Immunity [Matzinger, P., Fuchs, E.J., 1996. Beyond self and non-self: immunity is a conversation, not a war. J. NIH Res. 8, 35-39.]. Matzinger suggests that an immune system model based on the differentiation between "self and non-self" does not easily account for the changes that occur in the organism with growth and development. Why, for example does an organism not self-destruct when the immune system encounters the myriad of new peptides generated at puberty? Instead, she proposes a model of immune function based on the ability to detect and address dangers. This model states that the basic function of all cells of the organism is appropriately timed death "from natural causes". This type of cell death, or apoptosis, generates no stress signals. If, on the other hand, a cell is "murdered" by an infectious agent or dies an untimely death due to necrosis or ischemia, the cell undergoes a stress response with the liberation of stress protein-peptide complexes into the extracellular environment upon cell lysis. Not only do they serve as a "danger signal" to alert the immune system to the death of a cell under stress, but their role as protein carriers allows the immune effector cells to survey the peptides released by this stressed cell and to activate against new or unrecognized peptides carried by the stress protein. Matzinger bases the Danger Theory of Immunity on three "Laws of Lymphotics". These laws state that: (1) resting T lymphocytes require both antigen stimulation by an antigen-presenting cell (APC) and co-stimulation with a danger signal to become activated; (2) the co-stimulatory signal must be received through the APC; and (3) T cells receiving only antigen stimulation without the co-stimulatory signal undergo apoptosis. The Danger Theory gives a simple model for both tolerance and activation. (ABSTRACT TRUNCATED)

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