Heat shock factor-1 (HSF1) protects neurons from death caused by the accumulation of misfolded proteins by stimulating the transcription of genes encoding heat shock proteins (HSPs). This stimulatory action depends on the association of trimeric HSF1 to sequences within HSP gene promoters. However, we recently described that HSF-AB, a mutant form of HSF1 that is incapable of either homo-trimerization, association with HSP gene promoters, or stimulation of HSP expression, protects neurons just as efficiently as wild-type HSF1 suggesting an alternative neuroprotective mechanism that is activated by HSF1. To gain insight into the mechanism by which HSF1 and HSF1-AB protect neurons, we used RNA-Seq technology to identify transcriptional alterations induced by these proteins in either healthy cerebellar granule neurons (CGNs) or neurons primed to die. When HSF1 was ectopically-expressed in healthy neurons, 1,211 differentially expressed genes (DEGs) were identified with 1,075 being upregulated. When HSF1 was expressed in neurons primed to die, 393 genes were upregulated and 32 genes were downregulated. In sharp contrast, HSF1-AB altered expression of 13 genes in healthy neurons and only 6 genes in neurons under apoptotic conditions, suggesting that the neuroprotective effect of HSF1-AB may be mediated by a non-transcriptional mechanism. We validated the altered expression of 15 genes by QPCR. Although other studies have conducted RNA-Seq analyses to identify HSF1 targets, our study performed using primary neurons has identified a number of novel targets that may play a special role in brain maintenance and function.
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