Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences
What is Heat Shock?
Have you ever been stuck outside on a really hot day and started feeling terrible? Or maybe you've had the flu with a fever that kept creeping up, and it made you feel lousy? This is your body reacting to heat shock.
Heat shock occurs when your cells are warmed past their optimal temperature (with humans that is approximately 98.6 deg F). A cell usually 'knows' its optimal temperature as the temperature it was developed at. When they are feeling stressed, cells send out an 'SOS,' calling in the help of heat stress proteins and activating the stress response.
The Heat Shock Response
All cells have a temperature range that encompasses their 'happy place.' They function properly in this range, but things go badly when they get too hot or too cold. When cells undergo stress due to changes in temperature, they begin to break down, and one specific side effect is an abundance of proteins that remained unfolded (under-developed). A protein's function is determined by its shape, and when unfolded proteins are near each other, they can begin to stick together, causing problems in the body.
A cell's immediate response to stress is to call in reinforcements! Heat stress proteins are a type of protein known as molecular chaperones, and their numbers multiply when they are called into action. Molecular chaperones guide proteins through development, making sure each step of the process occurs at the right time and in the right amounts.
There are different types (at least 5 'families') of heat stress proteins, and some are found in the cell all the time, even when conditions are optimal; however, some types of heat stress proteins are only made when they are summoned. These heat stress proteins are triggered by something called heat shock factors - when they are called into duty, three heat shock factors will bind together and become activated, becoming the main forces trying to counteract heat shock.
These stress proteins will bind to DNA and stimulate the mass production of heat shock proteins that will swoop in and try to save the stressed cells. They can help underdeveloped proteins to finish forming, and some can even un-stick proteins that have stuck together. Once the body returns to an adequate temperature state, the heat shock proteins will inactivate.
Heat shock occurs when cells are pushed out of their temperature comfort zone, causing cells to begin breaking down and causing proteins to stick together. The heat shock response by the body can help reverse these effects by stimulating the formation of heat stress proteins, which are a type of helper cell (called molecular chaperones) that guide underdeveloped proteins through the proper stages of development. These heat stress proteins are made when heat shock factors activate by first binding together and then binding to DNA to ramp up heat shock protein production. It is an efficient response to heat shock and allows the best chance of recovery to the cells in the body undergoing stress. Once the body temperature has returned to its equilibrium range, the excess heat stress proteins will inactivate until they are needed again.
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