Heat shock proteins (HSP) are a family of proteins expressed in response to a wide range of biotic and abiotic stressors. They are thus also referred to as stress proteins. Their extraordinarily high degree of identity at the amino acid sequence level and the fact that this cellular stress response has been described in nearly all organisms studied, make this group of proteins unique. We provide a brief historical overview of HSP research, as a background to summarizing what is known about HSP expression in fish.
The expression of HSPs in fish has been described in cell lines, primary cultures of various cells, and in the tissues of whole organisms. Collectively, the data show that the expression of HSPs are affected in a wide variety of fish cells and tissues, in response both to biological stressors such as infectious pathogens, as well as to abiotic stressors such as heat and cold shock, and environmental contaminants. HSP research in fish is in its early stages and many studies are describing the expression of proteins in response to various stressors. Several studies have contributed to our understanding of the molecular nature and the molecular biology of HSPs in fish. Recent studies have shown a relationship between HSP expression and the generalized stress response in fish, but further research is needed to clarify the complex relationships between stress hormones and the cellular HSP response. In general, the HSP response seems to be related to the sensing of the stressor and the subsequent cellular effects which may adapt the cells to cope with the stressors. Consequently, such data may be of central importance in understanding the significance of HSP expression to the whole organism. We conclude with sections on laboratory methods used in HSP research and on potential applications of this knowledge in biomonitoring.