The heat shock proteins (HSPs) are members of highly conserved families of molecular chaperones that have multiple roles in vivo. We discuss the HSPs in general, and Hsp70 and Hsp27 in particular, and their rapid induction by severe stress in the context of tissue and organ expression in physiology and disease. We describe the current state of knowledge of the relationship and interactions between extra- and intracellular HSPs and describe mechanisms and significance of extracellular expression of HSPs. We focus on the role of the heat shock proteins as biomarkers of central nervous system (CNS) ischemia and other severe stressors and discuss recent and novel technologies for rapid measurement of proteins in vivo and ex vivo. The HSPs are compared to other proposed small molecule biomarkers for detection of CNS injury and to other methods of detecting brain and spinal cord ischemia in real time. While other biomarkers may be of use in prognosis and in design of appropriate therapies, none appears to be as rapid as the HSPs; therefore, no other measurement appears to be of use in the immediate detection of ongoing severe ischemia with the intention to immediately intervene to reduce the severity or risk of permanent damage
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