Immunological Aspects of Hsps in Defense and Invasion

Hsps are highly conserved among species. Generally, this is advantageous for the immune system: Repeated contact with different microbes may expose the host to conserved regions of microbial hsps so that the immune system is already alerted when it encounters a pathogen. Because pathogens express elevated hsp levels during infection, hsps may serve as early targets of the immune response (33-35). The possibility to protect against microbes by immunization with hsp has been utilized for several pathogens. Hsps were not only used as target antigens but also as carrier molecules for unrelated antigens (36,37). Similarities between prokaryotic and eukaryotic hsps, however, may activate a cross-reactive immune response to self epitopes derived from cellular hsps. This cross-reactivity may promote immune surveillance and elimination of abnormally altered cells. But to the detriment of the host, this cross-reactivity may result in autoimmune reactions as a sequelae of infection (6).

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