The heat shock response is an immediate cellular response to elevated temperatures and other types of injury that consists of the synthesis of so-called heat shock protein (hsp). This study was designed to investigate the production and the protective role of the 70 kDa hsp (hsp70) in cultured rat mesangial cells. When mesangial cells undergo thermal (45 degrees C, 15 min) stimulation, they express hsp70 mRNA expression and increased hsp70 protein production. Following this, Northern blots show an enhanced gene expression of hsp70 at one hour that reached a maximum by 12 hours after heat shock. The hsp70 protein production, estimated by Western blots, was detectable 12 hours after heat shock and reached a maximum by 36 hours. Oxidative injury generated by xanthine and xanthine oxidase inhibited cell survival and cellular proliferation, as measured by trypan blue exclusion and [3H]-labeled thymidine uptake. It did not affect hsp70 mRNA expression. Furthermore, when mesangial cells were preconditioned by heat shock, subsequent oxidative injury caused less inhibition of cell survival and cellular proliferation. Pretreatment of cells with quercetin, a transcription inhibitor, abolished the protective effect of heat shock on subsequent oxidative injury. We conclude that heat shock, not oxidative injury, induces hsp70 in mesangial cells, and this induction of hsp70 protects mesangial cells against subsequent oxidative injury.