Synthesis of heat shock proteins (Hsps) in response to elevated temperatures and other denaturing agents is a common feature of prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells. The heat-induced expression of Hsp70 family members in the gills and mantle of Ostrea edulis, a highly valued fisheries resource inhabiting primarily estuarine environments, has been studied. O edulis is exposed to a variety of natural and anthropogenic stresses in the environment. Two isoforms of about 72 kDa and 77 kDa were constitutively present in unstressed organisms, reflecting the housekeeping function performed by these proteins under normal circumstances. Their expression in animals undergoing thermal stress was highly variable, and on the average, little change occurred under different experimental conditions. A third isoform of about 69 kDa was induced in both tissues after exposure to ≥32°C; its synthesis was detected within 4 hours of poststress recovery at 15°C, reaching the maximum expression after 24 hours in the gills and after 48 hours in the mantle and declining thereafter. Hsp69 expression was low at 38°C, a temperature lethal for about 50% of the individuals tested. Densitometric analysis of Western blots revealed that Hsp69 was mostly responsible for the significant heat-induced overexpression of Hsp70s in O edulis. Comparison with heat shock responses in tissues of Crassostrea gigas indicated a similar pattern of Hsp70 expression. In this organism, however, Hsp69 was induced after exposure to ≥38°C. We conclude that tissue expression of Hsp69 in O edulis, and possibly other bivalves, is an early sign of thermal stress; determining whether these changes also correlate with other major environmental stresses is the goal of ongoing studies.
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