Cells are constantly exposed to a wide variety of stimuli and must be able to mount appropriate physiological responses in order to maintain proper form and function. Cells from every organism have evolved highly conserved mechanisms to cope with environmental changes, including the widely studied heat shock response (HSR), which is induced by a variety of cellular stresses such as heavy metal ion exposure. It has long been known that as organisms and individual cells age, their ability to appropriately cope with environmental stress is attenuated. Here, we examine the ability of two heavy metal ions (ZnCl2, SnCl2) to induce the HSR in human fibroblasts by assessing the expression of heat shock proteins (Hsp90, Hsp70, and p23) and the ability of the cells to recover over time. We demonstrate that the induction and recovery of chaperone levels is attenuated with age and that cells immortalized with the human telomerase reverse transcriptase component of the telomerase enzyme do not attenuate their HSR as their replicative age increases. Our data suggest that the recovery of normal human cells from an HSR is related in part to age and the cell’s overall telomere length
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