Heat shock proteins are abundant soluble intracellular proteins, present in all cells. Members of the heat shock protein family bind peptides including antigenic peptides generated within cells. Heat shock proteins also interact with antigen presenting cells through CD91 and other receptors, eliciting a cascade of events including re-presentation of heat shock protein-chaperoned peptides by MHC, translocation of NF kappa B into the nuclei and maturation of dendritic cells. These consequences point to a key role of heat shock proteins in fundamental immunological phenomena such as activation of antigen presenting cells, indirect presentation (or cross-priming), and chaperoning of peptides during antigen presentation. Heat shock proteins appear to have been involved in innate immune responses since the emergence of phagocytes in early multicellular organisms and to have been commandeered for adaptive immune responses with the advent of specificity. These properties of heat shock proteins also allow them to be used for immunotherapy of cancers and infections in novel ways.