Heat shock proteins (HSP) represent cell-protective and antioxidant systems that may be induced by reactive oxygen species, cytokines, and hyperthermia. In the present study, we evaluated the influence of heavy endurance exercise and training on HSP27 and HSP70 in peripheral leukocytes of 12 athletes (before and at 0, 3, and 24 h after a half-marathon) and 12 untrained controls on protein and mRNA levels by flow cytometry and RT/PCR, respectively. HSP transcripts increased significantly immediately after acute exertion accompanied by elevated levels of corresponding proteins. HSP protein expression remained high until 24 h postexercise. Significant increases of plasma interleukin-8, myeloperoxidase, and creatine kinase occurred after exercise. Basal HSP expression was usually lower in trained compared with untrained subjects. Applying in vitro heat shock to resting blood samples of all subjects significantly stimulated HSP mRNA, showing higher increases in trained individuals. The exercise-induced alterations indicate that immunocompetent cells became activated. In addition to heat stress, other exercise-associated stress agents (oxidants, cytokines) may have also participated in stimulation of HSP expression in leukocytes. The expression pattern of HSP due to training status may be attributed to adaptive mechanisms.