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Nature. 1988 Sep 22;335(6188):372-5.

Activation in vitro of sequence-specific DNA binding by a human regulatory factor.

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Department of Genetics, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02114.


The human heat-shock factor (HSF) regulates heat-shock genes in response to elevated temperature. When human cells are heated to 43 degrees C, HSF is modified post-translationally from a form that does not bind DNA to a form that binds to a specific sequence (the heat-shock element, HSE) found upstream of heat-shock genes. To investigate the transduction of the heat signal to HSF, and more generally, how mammalian cells respond at the molecular level to environmental stimuli, we have developed a cell-free system that exhibits heat-induced activation of human HSF in vitro. Comparison of HSF activation in vitro and in intact cells suggests that the response of human cells to heat shock involves at least two steps. First, an ATP-independent, heat-induced alteration of HSF allows it to bind the HSE; the temperature at which activation occurs in vitro implies that a human factor directly senses temperature. Second, HSF is phosphorylated. It is possible that similar multi-step activation mechanisms play a role in the response of eukaryotic cells to a variety of environmental stimuli, and that these mechanisms evolved to increase the range and flexibility of the response.

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