The transient expression of stress proteins in cells exposed to adverse environmental conditions is thought to provide a survival advantage. In the present study, the expression of the major mammalian stress protein, Hsp72, was characterized in the rat peripheral auditory system following varying periods of unilateral cochlear ischemia and reperfusion. Western blot analysis of whole cochlear homogenates revealed Hsp72 expression after as little as 5 minutes of cochlear ischemia. Cochlear Hsp72 immunoreactivity following 10 minutes of ischemia was observed within 2 hours, remained evident through 6 hours, and decreased toward control levels by 12 hours. Preliminary immunocytochemical localization data revealed Hsp72 expression in the outer hair cells. The characterization of Hsp72 expression following transient ischemia represents the first step toward understanding the role that stress proteins have in the protection of the mammalian auditory system.