Both chlamydial and human heat shock protein 60s (HSP 60), which colocalize in human atheroma, may contribute to inflammation during atherogenesis. We tested the hypothesis that chlamydial or human HSP 60 activates human endothelial cells (ECs), smooth muscle cells (SMCs), and monocyte-derived macrophages. We examined the expression of adhesion molecules such as endothelial-leukocyte adhesion molecule-1 (E-selectin), intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1), and vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 (VCAM-1), and the production of the proinflammatory cytokine interleukin-6 (IL-6). We also tested whether either HSP 60 induces nuclear factor-kappaB (NF-kappaB), which contributes to the gene expression of these molecules. Either chlamydial or human HSP 60 induced E-selectin, ICAM-1, and VCAM-1 expression on ECs similar to levels induced by Escherichia coli lipopolysaccharide (LPS). Each HSP 60 also significantly induced IL-6 production by ECs, SMCs, and macrophages to an extent similar to that induced by E. coli LPS, as assessed by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). In ECs, either HSP 60 triggered activation of NF-kappaB complexes containing p65 and p50 Rel proteins. Heat treatment abolished all these effects, but did not alter the ability of E. coli LPS to induce these functions. Chlamydial and human HSP 60s therefore activate human vascular cell functions relevant to atherogenesis and lesional complications. These findings help to elucidate the mechanisms by which a chronic asymptomatic chlamydial infection might contribute to the pathophysiology of atheroma.