Conventional wisdom on how stress-response protein works countered

In a finding that runs counter to conventional wisdom, researchers at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), have discovered for the first time that a gene thought to express a stress-response protein in all cells that come under stress instead expresses the protein only in specific cell types.

The research team, from the Jules Stein Eye Institute at UCLA and the UCLA Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, focused on aB-Crystallin, one of a class of molecules known as heat shock proteins, which are involved in the folding and unfolding of other proteins, helping them recover from stress so they can do their job.

The expression of heat shock proteins is increased when cells are exposed to taxing environmental conditions, such as infection, inflammation, exercise, exposure to toxins and other stressors.

The heat shock protein aB-Crystallin may be associated with certain cancers and could be developed into a biomarker to monitor for diseases such as multiple sclerosis, age-related macular degeneration, heart-muscle degeneration and clouding of the eye lens. Any discoveries about how this protein is regulated and its molecular biology may reveal potential targets for novel therapies, said the study's first author, Zhe Jing, a research associate in the UCLA Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine.

"If you use a certain cell type, this protein can be induced when the cells are stressed, but that doesn't happen in a different cell type," Jing said. "This novel finding does conflict with what has been thought - that this protein could be induced in any cell type."

The findings of the two-year study have been published in the current issue of the journal Cell Stress and Chaperones, a peer-reviewed journal for research on cell stress response.