Transient sublethal hyperthermia followed by recovery from heat stress, referred to as heat shock preconditioning, exerts a protective effect on ischemia/reperfusion-induced injury in many systems. This effect is considered to be correlated to heat shock proteins (HSPs) and might be a critical factor in kidney graft function and survival. This study was designed to examine the impact of heat shock preconditioning on kidney isograft function and survival in a model utilizing non-heart-beating (NHB) donors. Four groups of male Lewis rats (n = 10/group) subjected either to whole body hyperthermia (groups A and C) or to sham anesthesia (groups B and D) were allowed 24 h recovery. Thereafter, 20 min of warm ischemia (A/B), and in a separate set of experiments 40 min of warm ischemia (C/D), were induced by suprarenal aortic cross clamping before renal procurement. After 24-h preservation with University of Wisconsin solution at 4 degrees C, orthotopic kidney transplantations were performed to syngeneic bilaterally nephrectomized recipients. Tissue specimens were taken to determine HO-1/HSP32, 72, and 90 induction by Western blot analysis. Renal function was measured by means of serum creatinine and creatinine clearance on days 0, 3, and 7 as well as urine volume, protein content, and creatinine levels daily. HO-1/HSP32 and HSP72 were found to be expressed constitutively. Moreover, heat shock strongly induced renal HSP72 and HSP32/HO-1, and to a lesser extent HSP90, expression. For recipients of group A grafts, the graft survival rate was 10/10, whereas it was 7/10 (70 %) in recipients of group B grafts (log rank p < 0.05). Following 40 min of warm ischemia, 6/10 (60 %) recipients survived, whereas all sham treated animals died with anuria within 6 days (log rank p = 0.01). Heat shock preconditioning strongly improved graft viability and reduced functional impairment. Creatinine clearance (CRC) on day 3 post Tx was 0.43 +/- 0.24 ml/min in preconditioned animals (group A) and 0.07 +/- 0.09 ml/min (p < 0.001) in sham preconditioned (group B), whereas it was 0.91 +/- 0.33 ml/min and 0.03 +/- 0.02 ml/min (p < 0.00 001) on day 7 post Tx. Following 40 min NHB time, CRC in survivors of preconditioned graft recipients (group C) was 0.32 +/- 0.2 ml/min (day 3 post Tx) and 0.23 +/- 0.08 ml/min (day 7 post Tx) and was significantly better than CRC of group B (p < 0.01 and p < 0.00001, respectively). CRCs prior to NHB procedures were comparable in all animals ranging between 1.31 and 1.72 ml/min. Serum creatinine as well as proteinuria were significantly increased after transplantation in both groups but recovered within 5 days in recipients of preconditioned grafts, whereas kidneys from donors without HP did not recover function. Histological alterations were also diminished following HP. Hyperthermic preconditioning induces strong and long lasting HO-1/HSP32, HSP72, and HSP90 expression in rat kidneys. HP increases survival following transplantation and improves renal graft function including proteinuria, volume output, and creatinine clearance. HSP induction might be used to develop novel approaches in clinical transplantation.