Background: Many inducible transcription factors are regulated through batteries of posttranslational modifications that couple their activity to inducing stimuli. We have studied such regulation of Heat Shock Factor 1 (HSF1), a key protein in control of the heat shock response, and a participant in carcinogenisis, neurological health and aging. As the mechanisms involved in the intracellular regulation of HSF1 in good health and its dysregulation in disease are still incomplete we are investigating the role of posttranslational modifications in such regulation.
Methodology/principal findings: In a proteomic study of HSF1 binding partners, we have discovered its association with the pleiotropic protein kinase A (PKA). HSF1 binds avidly to the catalytic subunit of PKA, (PKAcα) and becomes phosphorylated on a novel serine phosphorylation site within its central regulatory domain (serine 320 or S320), both in vitro and in vivo. Intracellular PKAcα levels and phosphorylation of HSF1 at S320 were both required for HSF1 to be localized to the nucleus, bind to response elements in the promoter of an HSF1 target gene (hsp70.1) and activate hsp70.1 after stress. Reduction in PKAcα levels by small hairpin RNA led to HSF1 exclusion from the nucleus, its exodus from the hsp70.1 promoter and decreased hsp70.1 transcription. Likewise, null mutation of HSF1 at S320 by alanine substitution for serine led to an HSF1 species excluded from the nucleus and deficient in hsp70.1 activation.
Conclusions: These findings of PKA regulation of HSF1 through S320 phosphorylation add to our knowledge of the signaling networks converging on this factor and may contribute to elucidating its complex roles in the stress response and understanding HSF1 dysregulation in disease.