Heat shock proteins in the regulation of apoptosis: new strategies in tumor therapy: a comprehensive review

Pharmacol Ther. 2004 Mar;101(3):227-57. doi: 10.1016/j.pharmthera.2003.11.004.


Heat shock proteins (Hsp) form the most ancient defense system in all living organisms on earth. These proteins act as molecular chaperones by helping in the refolding of misfolded proteins and assisting in their elimination if they become irreversibly damaged. Hsp interact with a number of cellular systems and form efficient cytoprotective mechanisms. However, in some cases, wherein it is better if the cell dies, there is no reason for any further defense. Programmed cell death is a widely conserved general phenomenon helping in many processes involving the reconstruction of multicellular organisms, as well as in the elimination of old or damaged cells. Here, we review some novel elements of the apoptotic process, such as its interrelationship with cellular senescence and necrosis, as well as bacterial apoptosis. We also give a survey of the most important elements of the apoptotic machinery and show the various modes of how Hsp interact with the apoptotic events in detail. We review caspase-independent apoptotic pathways and anoikis as well. Finally, we show the emerging variety of pharmacological interventions inhibiting or, just conversely, inducing Hsp and review the emergence of Hsp as novel therapeutic targets in anticancer protocols.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis*
  • Caspases / physiology
  • Enzyme Activation
  • Heat-Shock Proteins / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Molecular Chaperones / physiology
  • Neoplasms / enzymology
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Signal Transduction


  • Heat-Shock Proteins
  • Molecular Chaperones
  • Caspases