The heat shock transcriptional factor 1 (HSF1) plays central roles in cellular protein homeostasis (proteostasis), and is precisely regulated for organismal health. HSF1 is activated by proteotoxic stresses in the cytosol and nucleus, and induces the conserved protective response called the heat shock response (HSR). HSF1 is also activated in specific physiological conditions to regulate development, reproduction, longevity and energy metabolism. Conversely, aberrant activation of HSF1 supports malignancy. While the transcriptome and regulatory mechanisms for HSF1 in the HSR have been extensively studied, significant knowledge gaps exist for programmed activation of HSF1 in physiology and dysregulation of HSF1 in diseases. Specifically, it is poorly understood: 1> why HSF1 is essential for certain cell types or cellular states and dispensable for others, and 2> what mechanisms determine HSF1's regulons and activities in those physiological and pathological conditions. My lab has established animal and cell models to address these questions. Taking the nematode C. elegans as a model and the genetic tools we newly developed, we have found that HSF1 is required in the germline for progenitor cell proliferation in a manner uncoupled from the HSR, and this requisite is dictated by IGF-1/PI3K signaling. We will explore how the IGF-1/PI3K pathway regulates HSF1 functions in germ cells by cell-autonomous and non-autonomous mechanisms. Meanwhile, we are using cancer cell lines to understand HSF1's roles in abnormal cell proliferation, where the transcriptional program of HSF1 is known to be distinct from the HSR. We have recently identified epistatic interactors of HSF1 in proliferation and survival through CRISPR screens in prostate cancer cells. Guided by the results, we will study the roles of HSF1 in cell-cycle progression and its regulation by the replication-coupled nucleosome assembly factor CHAF1B. Through these studies, we expect to uncover the context-dependent requirements for HSF1, and identify the mechanisms that specify the unique transcriptional programs of HSF1 in germline development and uncontrolled cancer cell proliferation from those of the canonical HSR. Our research will establish a framework for future studies on HSF1 in other physiological processes, and shed light on potential therapeutic strategies that target the specific regulatory pathways of HSF1 in cancer.
Cells have implemented robust stress-responsive systems that drive gene expression to cope with environmental perturbations that cause protein damages. These systems also have broader roles in animal physiology including development and reproduction, and can be hijacked in disease, such as cancer. The mission of this research is to understand the roles of the stress responsive systems in these physiological and pathological conditions, and to provide insights on regulating their activities for organismal health.