Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Biology (Cell Biology, Microbiology, Molecular Biology)

Major Professor

Sandy D. Westerheide, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Brant Burkhardt, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Younghoon Kee, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Cecilia Nunes, Ph.D.


heat shock response, HSF1, heat shock proteins, C. elegans, longevity


In order to survive, cells must be able to cope with a variety of environmental stressors. The heat shock response (HSR) is a pro-survival mechanism employed by cells in response to protein denaturing stress, such as heat. Since its discovery in 1960, the heat shock response has been found to be regulated by the transcription factor heat shock factor 1 (HSF1). During periods of increased stress, HSF1 undergoes a multi-step process of activation that involves homotrimerization, DNA-binding, and post-translational regulatory modifications, all of which ultimately function to control the transcription of chaperone genes. These chaperone genes encode molecular chaperone proteins which function to promote survival during stress by restoring protein homeostasis to the cell. Although HSF1 is classically studied for its role in regulating the HSR, HSF1 also has roles in regulating metabolism, development, and longevity. Studies in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans demonstrate the HSF1 homolog, HSF-1, as a global regulator of gene expression that has both stress-dependent and -independent functions. Modulating HSF1 activity therefore has implications beyond stress-induced processes, and has been suggested as a promising therapeutic target for diseases of aging and protein dysfunction.

We were interested in determining regulators of the HSR using C. elegans as a model to test for effects on proteostasis and longevity. In these studies, we observed the effects of compound treatment (Chapters 1 and 2), genetic manipulation (Chapters 3 and 4), and environmental stimuli (Chapters 5 and 6), on the HSR in C. elegans. In Chapters 1 and 2, we describe our findings that treatment with the DNA synthesis inhibitor Fluorodeoxyuridine, and treatment with coffee and caffeine, enhance the heat shock response and improve proteostasis in aging worms in an HSF-1-dependent manner. In Chapters 3 and 4, we uncovered that negative regulation of the HSR by the cell cycle and apoptosis regulator CCAR2 is conserved in C. elegans, and is mediated by the CCAR2 ortholog, LST-3. We also uncovered that negative regulation of the HSR by LST-3 requires the SIRT1 homolog Sir-2.1, and knockdown of LST-3 via lst-3 RNAi works through Sir-2.1 to enhance stress-resistance, fitness, proteostasis and longevity. In Chapters 5 and 6, we describe the global impact of HSF-1 in regulating transcriptional processes during a heat stress. The profiling of global HSF-1 mRNA and miRNA targets has allowed us to uncover a heat-dependent and -independent role for HSF-1 in regulating gene expression to impact stress-resistance, proteostasis, and longevity. Altogether, these studies demonstrate the impact of compound treatment, genetic manipulation, and environmental stimuli on the heat shock response, while also uncovering global stress-dependent and -independent roles for HSF-1. This work therefore provides insight into various methods of activating the HSR by modulating HSF-1 activity, and uncovering global HSF-1 target genes, which may be useful for designing therapeutic treatment strategies for diseases of protein dysfunction.