At Higher Temperatures Plants Produce Heat Shock Proteins

In response to sudden, 5 to 10°C rises in temperature, plants produce a unique set of proteins referred to as heat shock proteins (HSPs). Most HSPs function to help cells withstand heat stress by acting as molecular chaperones. Heat stress causes many cell proteins that function as enzymes or structural components to become unfolded or misfolded, thereby leading to loss of proper enzyme structure and activity.

Such misfolded proteins often aggregate and precipitate, creating serious problems within the cell. HSPs act as molecular chaperones and serve to attain a proper folding of misfolded, aggregated proteins and to prevent misfolding of proteins. This facilitates proper cell functioning at elevated, stressful temperatures.

Heat shock proteins were discovered in the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) and have since been identified in other animals, and in humans, as well as in plants, fungi, and microorganisms. For example, when soybean seedlings are suddenly shifted from 25 to 40°C (just below the lethal temperature), synthesis of the set of mRNAs and proteins commonly found in the cell is suppressed, while transcription and translation of a set of 30 to 50 other pro teins (HSPs) is enhanced. New mRNA transcripts for HSPs can be detected 3 to 5 minutes after heat shock (Sachs and Ho 1986).

Although plant HSPs were first identified in response to sudden changes in temperature (25 to 40°C) that rarely occur in nature, HSPs are also induced by more gradual rises in temperature that are representative of the natural environment, and they occur in plants under field conditions. Some HSPs are found in normal, unstressed cells, and some essential cellular proteins are homologous to HSPs but do not increase in response to thermal stress (Vierling 1991).

Plants and most other organisms make HSPs of different sizes in response to temperature increases (Table 25.4). The molecular masses of the HSPs range from 15 to 104 kDa (kilodaltons), and they can be grouped into five classes based on size. Different HSPs are localized to the nucleus, mitochondria, chloroplasts, endoplasmic reticulum, and cytosol. Members of the HSP60, HSP70, HSP90, and HSP100 groups act as molecular chaperones, involving ATP-dependent stabilization and folding of proteins, and the assembly of oligomeric proteins. Some HSPs assist in polypeptide transport across membranes into cellular compartments. HSP90s are associated with hormone receptors in animal cells and may be required for their activation, but there is no comparable information for plants.

Low-molecular-weight (15-30 kDa) HSPs are more abundant in higher plants than in other organisms. Whereas plants contain five to six classes of low-molecular-weight HSPs, other eukaryotes show only one class (Buchanan et al. 2000). The different classes of 15-30 kDa molecular-weight HSPs (smHSPs) in plants are distributed in the cytosol, chloroplasts, ER and mitochondria. The function of these small HSPs is not understood.

Cells that have been induced to synthesize HSPs show improved thermal tolerance and can tolerate exposure to temperatures that are otherwise lethal. Some of the HSPs are not unique to high-temperature stress. They are also induced by widely different environmental stresses or conditions, including water deficit, ABA treatment, wounding, low temperature, and salinity. Thus, cells previously

TABLE 25.4

The five classes of heat shock proteins found in plants

TABLE 25.4

The five classes of heat shock proteins found in plants

HSP class

Size (kDa)

Examples (Arabidopsis / prokaryotic)

Cellular location



AtHSP101 / ClpB, ClpA/C

Cytosol, mitochondria, chloroplasts



AtHSP90 / HtpG

Cytosol, endoplasmic reticulum



AtHSP70 / DnaK

Cytosol/nucleus, mitochondria, chloroplasts



AtTCP-1 / GroEL, GroES

Mitochondria, chloroplasts



Various AtHSP22, AtHSP20, AtHSP18.2, AtHSP17.6 / IBPA/B

Cytosol, mitochondria, chloroplasts, endoplasmic reticulum

Source: After Boston et al. 1996.

Source: After Boston et al. 1996.

exposed to one stress may gain cross-protection against another stress. Such is the case with tomato fruits, in which heat shock (48 hours at 38°C) has been observed to promote HSP accumulation and to protect cells for 21 days from chilling at 2°C.

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