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Heat shock proteins: new keys to
the development of cytoprotective therapies.

All cells, from bacterial to human, have a common, intricate response to stress that protects them from injury. Heat shock proteins (Hsps), also known as stress proteins and molecular chaperones, play a central role in protecting cellular homeostatic processes from environmental and physiologic insult by preserving the structure of normal proteins and repairing or removing damaged ones. An understanding of the interplay between Hsps and cell stress tolerance will provide new tools for treatment and drug design that maximize preservation or restoration of health. For example, the increased vulnerability of tissues to injury in some conditions, such as ageing, diabetes mellitus and menopause, or with the use of certain drugs, such as some antihypertensive medications, is associated with an impaired Hsp response. Additionally, diseases that are associated with tissue oxidation, free radical formation, disorders of protein folding, or inflammation, may be improved therapeutically by elevated expression of Hsps. The accumulation of Hsps, whether induced physiologically, pharmacologically, genetically, or by direct administration of the proteins, is known to protect the organism from a great variety of pathological conditions, including myocardial infarction, stroke, sepsis, viral infection, trauma, neurodegenerative diseases, retinal damage, congestive heart failure, arthritis, sunburn, colitis, gastric ulcer, diabetic complications and transplanted organ failure. Conversely, lowering Hsps in cancer tissues can amplify the effectiveness of chemo- or radiotherapy. Treatments and agents that induce Hsps include hyperthermia, heavy metals (zinc and tin), salicylates, dexamethasone, cocaine, nicotine, alcohol, alpha-adrenergic agonists, PPAR-gamma agonists, bimoclomol, geldanamycin, geranylgeranylacetone and cyclopentenone prostanoids. Compounds that suppress Hsps include quercetin (a bioflavinoid), 15-deoxyspergualin (an immunosuppressive agent) and retinoic acid. Researchers who are cognizant of the Hsp-related effects of these and other agents will be able to use them to develop new therapeutic paradigms.

Tytell M, Hooper PL, Expert Opin Ther Targets. 2001 Apr;5(2):267-87.

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