Heat shock proteins in cancer: targeting the 'chaperones'

Future Med Chem. 2012 May;4(7):927-35. doi: 10.4155/fmc.12.50.


Heat shock proteins (Hsps) are highly conserved proteins working as molecular chaperones for several cellular proteins essential for normal cell viability and growth, and have numerous cytoprotective roles. The expression of Hsps is induced in response to a wide variety of physiological and environmental stress insults, including anticancer chemotherapy, thus allowing the cell to survive lethal conditions. Cancer cells experience high levels of proteotoxic stress and rely upon stress-response pathways for survival and proliferation, thereby becoming dependent on proteins such as stress-inducible Hsps. Owing to the implication of Hsps in cancer, Hsp inhibition has recently emerged as an interesting potential anticancer strategy. Many natural and synthetic Hsp inhibitors molecular compounds are in development and many are being evaluated as potential cancer therapies. One of the Hsps in particular, Hsp90, has several client proteins and is emerging as a particularly exciting cancer target due to the prospect of simultaneously inhibiting chaperoning of numerous oncogenic proteins. This review describes the function of Hsps focusing on current efforts in exploiting the attributes of Hsps as potential targets for anticancer therapy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Drug Discovery / methods
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / drug effects
  • Heat-Shock Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Heat-Shock Proteins / genetics
  • Heat-Shock Proteins / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy / methods*
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Heat-Shock Proteins