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1 The Stress Response, Function of the Proteins, and Perspectives

Richard I. Morimoto, Alfred Tissières, Costa Georgopoulos


This introductory chapter is divided into three sections. In the first section, we introduce the nonspecialist to the biology of the stress response through a brief history of the early studies on the stress or heat shock response. In the second section, we highlight aspects of the stress response, including the latest developments in the field, with emphasis on the function of the stress proteins. Finally, in the third section, an attempt is made to place the stress response in the perspective of human disease. Throughout this book, the terms heat shock and the stress response will be used interchangeably.

A. The Heat Shock or Stress Response
Living organisms respond at the cellular level to unfavorable conditions such as heat shock, or other stressful situations of many different origins, by the rapid, vigorous, and transient acceleration in the rate of expression of a small number of specific genes (heat shock genes). Consequently, the products of these genes (commonly referred to as heat shock proteins [hsps] or the stress proteins), which are also present under normal conditions but in lesser amounts, increase and accumulate in cells to reach, in some instances, fairly large concentrations. The activation of heat shock gene expression by stress takes place in all cells of organisms with only a few exceptions, such as during early embryonic development (Dura 1981; Wittig et al. 1983; Banerji et al. 1984, 1987). A great deal of circumstantial evidence supports the belief that the function of these proteins is...

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