Heat shock proteins in immunity

Handb Exp Pharmacol. 2006;(172):279-304. doi: 10.1007/3-540-29717-0_12.


This chapter focuses on immunological effects of eukaryotic and microbial heat shock proteins (HSPs), with molecular weights of about 60, 70, and 90 kDa. The search for tumor-specific antigens resulted in the identification of HSPs. They have been found to elicit a potent anti-cancer immune response mediated by the adoptive and innate immune system. Following receptor-mediated uptake of HSP (HSP70 and gp96) peptide complexes by antigen-presenting cells and representation of HSP-chaperoned peptides by MHC class I molecules, a CD8-specific T cell response is induced. Apart from chaperoning immunogenic peptides derived from tumors, bacterial and virally infected cells, they by themselves provide activatory signals for antigen-presenting cells and natural killer (NK) cells. After binding of peptide-free HSP70 to Toll-like receptors, the secretion of pro-inflammatory cytokines is initiated by antigen-presenting cells and thus results in a nonspecific stimulation of the immune system. Moreover, soluble as well as cell membrane-bound HSP70 on tumor cells can directly activate the cytolytic and migratory capacity of NK cells. Apart form cancer, HSPs of different origins, with a molecular weight of about 60, 70, and 90 kDa, also play a pivotal role in viral infections, including human and simian immunodeficiency virus (HIV, SIV), measles, and choriomeningitis. Moreover, HSPs have been found to induce tolerance against autoimmune diseases. In summary, depending on their mode of induction, intracellular/extracellular location, cellular origin (eukaryote/prokaryote), peptide loading status, intracellular ADP/ATP content, concentration, and route of application, HSPs either exert immune activation as danger signals in cancer immunity and mediate protection against infectious diseases or exhibit regulatory activities in controlling and preventing autoimmunity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / immunology
  • Escherichia coli Infections / immunology
  • HIV Infections / immunology
  • Heat-Shock Proteins / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Immunity*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology
  • Lymphocyte Activation
  • Measles / immunology
  • Neoplasms / immunology


  • Heat-Shock Proteins