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PLoS One. 2012;7(2):e31304. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0031304. Epub 2012 Feb 8.

Regulation of cyclooxygenase-2 expression by heat: a novel aspect of heat shock factor 1 function in human cells.

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Institute of Translational Pharmacology, CNR, Rome, Italy.


The heat-shock response, a fundamental defense mechanism against proteotoxic stress, is regulated by a family of heat-shock transcription factors (HSF). In humans HSF1 is considered the central regulator of heat-induced transcriptional responses. The main targets for HSF1 are specific promoter elements (HSE) located upstream of heat-shock genes encoding cytoprotective heat-shock proteins (HSP) with chaperone function. In addition to its cytoprotective function, HSF1 was recently hypothesized to play a more complex role, regulating the expression of non-HSP genes; however, the non-canonical role of HSF1 is still poorly understood. Herein we report that heat-stress promotes the expression of cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), a key regulator of inflammation controlling prostanoid and thromboxane synthesis, resulting in the production of high levels of prostaglandin-E(2) in human cells. We show that heat-induced COX-2 expression is regulated at the transcriptional level via HSF1-mediated signaling and identify, by in-vitro reporter gene activity assay and deletion-mutant constructs analysis, the COX-2 heat-responsive promoter region and a new distal cis-acting HSE located at position -2495 from the transcription start site. As shown by ChIP analysis, HSF1 is recruited to the COX-2 promoter rapidly after heat treatment; by using shRNA-mediated HSF1 suppression and HSE-deletion from the COX-2 promoter, we demonstrate that HSF1 plays a central role in the transcriptional control of COX-2 by heat. Finally, COX-2 transcription is also induced at febrile temperatures in endothelial cells, suggesting that HSF1-dependent COX-2 expression could contribute to increasing blood prostaglandin levels during fever. The results identify COX-2 as a human non-classical heat-responsive gene, unveiling a new aspect of HSF1 function.

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