The hyperthermoacidophilic archaeon Sulfolobus shibatae contains group II chaperonins, known as rosettasomes, which are two nine-membered rings composed of three different 60 kDa subunits (TF55 alpha, beta and gamma). We sequenced the gene for the gamma subunit and studied the temperature-dependent changes in alpha, beta and gamma expression, their association into rosettasomes and their phylogenetic relationships. Alpha and beta gene expression was increased by heat shock (30 min, 86 degrees C) and decreased by cold shock (30 min, 60 degrees C). Gamma expression was undetectable at heat shock temperatures and low at normal temperatures (75-79 degrees C), but induced by cold shock. Polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis indicated that in vitro alpha and beta subunits form homo-oligomeric rosettasomes, and mixtures of alpha, beta and gamma form hetero-oligomeric rosettasomes. Transmission electron microscopy revealed that beta homo-oligomeric rosettasomes and all hetero-oligomeric rosettasomes associate into filaments. In vivo rosettasomes were hetero-oligomeric with an average subunit ratio of 1alpha:1beta:0.1gamma in cultures grown at 75 degrees C, a ratio of 1alpha:3beta:1gamma in cultures grown at 60 degrees C and a ratio of 2alpha:3beta:0gamma after 86 degrees C heat shock. Using differential scanning calorimetry, we determined denaturation temperatures (Tm) for alpha, beta and gamma subunits of 95.7 degrees C, 96.7 degrees C and 80.5 degrees C, respectively, and observed that rosettasomes containing gamma were relatively less stable than those with alpha and/or beta only. We propose that, in vivo, the rosettasome structure is determined by the relative abundance of subunits and not by a fixed geometry. Furthermore, phylogenetic analyses indicate that archaeal chaperonin subunits underwent multiple duplication events within species (paralogy). The independent evolution of these paralogues raises the possibility that chaperonins have functionally diversified between species.