Heat-shock proteins from confluent primary cultures of bovine aortic endothelial cells were analyzed by SDS-polyacrylamide gels. In addition to the increased synthesis of the classical heat-shock proteins, there is an increase of a 180,000-mol wt polypeptide in the growth media of heat-shocked cells. Immunoprecipitation with specific antiserum indicates that the 180,000-mol wt polypeptide is thrombospondin. Assay of mRNA levels coding for thrombospondin after brief hyperthermic treatment (45 degrees C, 10 min), followed by a recovery of 2 h at 37 degrees C, results in a twofold increase in mRNA abundance. In contrast, the activation level of the 71,000-mol wt heat-shock protein mRNA occurs at an earlier time than for thrombospondin mRNA. Immunofluorescence microscopy was used to study the intracellular and extracellular distribution of thrombospondin. Thrombospondin is localized to a prominent pattern of granules of intracellular fluorescence in a perinuclear distribution in cells not exposed to heat. Upon heat treatment, the pattern of granules of intracellular fluorescence appears more pronounced, and the fluorescence appears to be clustered more about the nucleus. There are at least three pools of extracellular forms of thrombospondin: (a) the fine fibrillar extracellular matrix thrombospondin; (b) the punctate granular thrombospondin; and (c) the thrombospondin found in the conditioned medium not associated with the extracellular matrix. When bovine aortic endothelial cells are exposed to heat, the extracellular matrix staining of a fibrillar nature is noticeably decreased, with an increase in the number and degree of fluorescence of focal areas where the punctate granule thrombospondin structures are highly localized. No gross morphological changes in extracellular matrix staining of fibronectin was noted. However, the intermediate filament network was very sensitive and collapsed around the nucleus after heat shock. We conclude that the expression of thrombospondin is heat-shock stimulated.

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