The heat shock transcription factor (HSF) is the primary transcriptional regulator of the heat shock response in eukaryotes. Saccharomyces cerevisiae HSF1 has two functional transcriptional activation domains, located N- and C-terminal to the central core of the protein. These activation domains have a low level of transcriptional activity prior to stress, but they acquire a high level of transcriptional activity in response to stresses such as heat. Previous studies on the N-terminal activation domain have shown that it can be completely disordered. In contrast, we show that the C-terminal activation domain of S. cerevisiae HSF1 does contain a certain amount of secondary structure as measured by circular dichroism (CD) and protease resistance. The alpha-helical content of the domain can be increased by the addition of the disaccharide trehalose but not by sucrose. Trehalose, but not sucrose, causes a blue shift in the fluorescence emission spectra, which is suggestive of an increase in tertiary structure. Trehalose, which is known to be a chemical chaperone, also increases proteases' resistance and promotes heat-induced increases in alpha-helicity. The latter is particularly intriguing because of the physiological role of trehalose in yeast. Trehalose levels are increased dramatically after heat shock, and this is thought to protect protein structure prior to the increase of heat shock protein levels. Our results suggest that the dramatic changes in S. cerevisiae HSF1 transcriptional activity in response to stress might be linked to the combined effects of trehalose and elevated temperatures in modifying the overall structure of HSF1's C-terminal activation domain.
Copyright 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.