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J Genet. 2003 Dec;82(3):89-94.

Mild heat stress at a young age in Drosophila melanogaster leads to increased Hsp70 synthesis after stress exposure later in life.

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Aarhus Centre for Environmental Stress Research (ACES), Department of Ecology and Genetics, University of Aarhus, Building 540, Ny Munkegade, DK-8000 Aarhus C, Denmark.


In a number of animal species it has been shown that exposure to low levels of stress at a young age has a positive effect on stress resistance later in life, and on longevity. The positive effects have been attributed to the activation of defence/cleaning systems (heat shock proteins (Hsps), antioxidases, DNA repair) or to effects of a changed metabolic rate, or both. We investigated the effect of mild stress exposures early in life on Hsp70 synthesis after a harder stress exposure later in life in five isofemale lines of Drosophila melanogaster. Female flies were either exposed to repeated bouts of mild heat stress (3 h at 34 degrees C) at a young age (days 2, 4 and 6 post-eclosion) or held under standard laboratory conditions. At 16 and 32 days of adult age, respectively, flies were exposed to a high-temperature treatment known to induce Hsp70 in the investigated species (1 h at 37 degrees C). Thereafter, the inducible Hsp70 levels were measured. Our data show a tendency towards increased Hsp70 synthesis with increased age for both 'mild stress' and 'no stress' flies. Moreover, the results show that flies exposed to mild stress at a young age synthesized more Hsp70 upon induction, compared to control flies, and that this difference was accentuated at 32 days compared to 16 days of age. Thus, bouts of mild heat stress at a young age impact on the physiological stress response system later in life. This may be caused by an increased ability to react to future stresses. Alternatively, the mild stress exposure at a young age may actually have caused cellular damages increasing the need for Hsp70 levels after stress exposure later in life. The importance of an Hsp70 upregulation (throughout life) in explaining the phenomenon of hormesis is discussed, together with alternative hypotheses, and suggestions for further studies.

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