We examined the hypothesis that reactive oxygen species (ROS) contribute to the induction of heat shock proteins (hsps) during stress response. Exposure of HL-60 human myelocytic cells to 42 degrees C induced both hsp72 and hsp27. In the presence of the antioxidant molecules pyrrolidine dithiocarbamate or 1,10-phenanthroline induction of hsp72 and 27 was significantly decreased, while N-acetyl-L-cysteine caused a slight reduction. Prevention of hsp induction was associated with heat sensitization and increased caspase activity, indicating that the cells were undergoing apoptosis. These data suggest that ROS contribute to the induction of hsps and furthermore, that hsp induction and apoptosis are mutually exclusive events within the same cell.