HSF1 as a Cancer Biomarker and Therapeutic Target

Curr Cancer Drug Targets. 2019;19(7):515-524. doi: 10.2174/1568009618666181018162117.


Heat shock factor 1 (HSF1) was discovered in 1984 as the master regulator of the heat shock response. In this classical role, HSF1 is activated following cellular stresses such as heat shock that ultimately lead to HSF1-mediated expression of heat shock proteins to protect the proteome and survive these acute stresses. However, it is now becoming clear that HSF1 also plays a significant role in several diseases, perhaps none more prominent than cancer. HSF1 appears to have a pleiotropic role in cancer by supporting multiple facets of malignancy including migration, invasion, proliferation, and cancer cell metabolism among others. Because of these functions, and others, of HSF1, it has been investigated as a biomarker for patient outcomes in multiple cancer types. HSF1 expression alone was predictive for patient outcomes in multiple cancer types but in other instances, markers for HSF1 activity were more predictive. Clearly, further work is needed to tease out which markers are most representative of the tumor promoting effects of HSF1. Additionally, there have been several attempts at developing small molecule inhibitors to reduce HSF1 activity. All of these HSF1 inhibitors are still in preclinical models but have shown varying levels of efficacy at suppressing tumor growth. The growth of research related to HSF1 in cancer has been enormous over the last decade with many new functions of HSF1 discovered along the way. In order for these discoveries to reach clinical impact, further development of HSF1 as a biomarker or therapeutic target needs to be continued.

Keywords: EMT; HSF1; biomarker; invasion; metastasis; migration; therapy..

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism
  • Heat Shock Transcription Factors / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Heat Shock Transcription Factors / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy / methods
  • Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • HSF1 protein, human
  • Heat Shock Transcription Factors