Molecular chaperones: toward new therapeutic tools

Biomed Pharmacother. 2011 Jul;65(4):239-43. doi: 10.1016/j.biopha.2011.04.025. Epub 2011 Jun 12.


Molecular chaperones (or heat shock proteins) are evolutionarily conserved and essential proteins that play a key role in cell survival through cytoprotective mechanisms. Despite their possible clinical applications, the understanding of these structures is still quite limited. The aim of the present study is to review the literature to understand the physiological importance, implication in various diseases (especially in cancer and neurodegenerative diseases), possible applicability, and future prospects of heat shock proteins. The cytoprotective mechanisms of molecular chaperones can be co-opted by oncogenic processes favoring tumor growth, invasion, evasion of apoptosis, and metastasis, thus making inhibitors to these molecules possible therapeutic options for cancer patients. However, there is also evidence showing that upregulation of heat shock proteins can have an antineoplastic effect through immunomodulatory activity. This is why chaperones have already been investigated for conventional chemotherapy under specific conditions, yielding interesting results. The induction of heat shock protein activity is also of potential benefit in many other diseases where structural and functional preservation of proteins may enhance cell survival, including neurodegeneration, trauma, stroke, and cardiovascular disease. In addition, the immune properties of chaperones can potentially be exploited for such diseases as diabetes, atherosclerosis, and other chronic inflammatory conditions. Thus, continuing efforts to clarify the role of chaperones may guide the development of new therapeutic modalities capable of minimizing the impact of diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes as well as obtaining better results in neurological conditions currently lacking alternative treatments.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Heat-Shock Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Heat-Shock Proteins / biosynthesis
  • Heat-Shock Proteins / immunology
  • Heat-Shock Proteins / physiology
  • Humans
  • Molecular Chaperones / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Molecular Chaperones / biosynthesis
  • Molecular Chaperones / immunology
  • Molecular Chaperones / physiology*
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / immunology
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / immunology
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / metabolism
  • Protein Folding


  • Heat-Shock Proteins
  • Molecular Chaperones