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Crit Rev Toxicol. 1993;23(1):49-75.

Stress proteins in aquatic organisms: an environmental perspective.

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Molecular Ecology Institute, California State University, Long Beach 90840.


The cellular stress response protects organisms from damage resulting from exposure to a wide variety of stressors, including elevated temperatures, ultraviolet (UV) light, trace metals, and xenobiotics. The stress response entails the rapid synthesis of a suite of proteins referred to as stress proteins, or heat-shock proteins, upon exposure to adverse environmental conditions. These proteins are highly conserved and have been found in organisms as diverse as bacteria, molluscs, and humans. In this review, we discuss the stress response in aquatic organisms from an environmental perspective. Our current understanding of the cellular functions of stress proteins is examined within the context of their role in repair and protection from environmentally induced damage, acquired tolerance, and environmental adaptation. The tissue specificity of the response and its significance relative to target organ toxicity also are addressed. In addition, the usefulness of using the stress response as a diagnostic in environmental toxicology is evaluated. From the studies discussed in this review, it is apparent that stress proteins are involved in organismal adaptation to both natural and anthropogenic environmental stress, and that further research using this focus will make important contributions to both environmental physiology and ecotoxicology.

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