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1 Progress and Perspectives on the Biology of Heat Shock Proteins and Molecular Chaperones

Richard I. Morimoto, Alfred Tissières, Costa Georgopoulos


In contrast to such “shocks” for which the genome is unprepared, are those a genome must face repeatedly, and for which it is prepared to respond in a programmed manner. Examples are the “heat shock” responses in eukaryotic organisms, and the “SOS” responses in bacteria. Each of these initiates a highly programmed sequence of events within the cell that serves to cushion the effects of the shock. Some sensing mechanism must be present in these instances to alert the cell to imminent danger, and to set in motion the orderly sequence of events that will mitigate this danger. The responses of genomes to unanticipated challenges are not so precisely programmed. Nevertheless, these are sensed, and the genome responds in a discernible but initially unforeseen manner.

Barbara McClintock–Nobel lecture, 8 December 1983

These prophetic words by Barbara McClintock eloquently capture the essence of the heat shock response. At the time these words were written, it was known that all organisms shared a common response to physiological stress. Some of the genes encoding heat shock proteins had just been cloned and the basis of heat shock gene regulation was in the early stages of investigation. However, the function of the heat shock response and the role of heat shock proteins were still a mystery. This mystery slowly began to unravel, and by the 1980s, some information on the function of the heat shock proteins as proteases or unfolded polypeptide-binding proteins had already accumulated. These early stages of elucidation of the biochemical...

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