The role of heat shock proteins and their receptors in the activation of the immune system

Biol Chem. 2001 Apr;382(4):629-36. doi: 10.1515/BC.2001.074.


Heat shock proteins (HSPs) have been described as potent tumor vaccines in animal models and are currently studied in clinical trials. The underlying immune response relies on immunogenic peptides that the HSPs have acquired intracellularly by interfering with the classical antigen processing pathways. There have been numerous reports shedding light on how HSPs are able to gain this function and a number of important requirements for HSP-mediated specific immunity have been described: first, the ability of HSPs to bind immunogenic peptides. Second, the acquisition of HSPs by specialized antigen presenting cells with efficient antigen processing pathways capable of inducing cellular immune responses. Third, the existence of specific receptors on the surfaces of antigen presenting cells, allowing efficient and rapid uptake of HSP-peptide complexes from the extracellular fluid. And fourth, the ability of heat shock proteins to activate antigen presenting cells, enabling the latter to prime cytotoxic T cell responses against the peptides associated to HSPs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigen-Presenting Cells / immunology*
  • Antigen-Presenting Cells / metabolism
  • Apoptosis / physiology
  • Dendritic Cells / drug effects
  • Dendritic Cells / immunology*
  • Heat-Shock Proteins / immunology*
  • Heat-Shock Proteins / pharmacology
  • Heat-Shock Proteins / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Immune System / drug effects
  • Immune System / immunology
  • Peptides / chemistry
  • Peptides / immunology*
  • Peptides / metabolism
  • Protein Binding


  • Heat-Shock Proteins
  • Peptides