The induction of heat shock proteins (Hsps) serves not only as a marker for cellular stress but also as a promoter of cell survival, which is especially important in the nervous system. We examined the regulation of the constitutive and stress-induced 70-kD Hsps (Hsc70 and Hsp70, respectively) after sciatic nerve (SN) axotomy in the neonatal mouse. Additionally, the prevention of axotomy-induced SN cell death by administration of several preparations of exogenous Hsc70 and Hsp70 was tested. Immunohistochemistry and Western blot analyses showed that endogenous levels of Hsc70 and Hsp70 did not increase significantly in lumbar motor neurons or dorsal root ganglion sensory neurons up to 24 hours after axotomy. When a variety of Hsc70 and Hsp70 preparations at doses ranging from 5 to 75 microg were applied to the SN stump after axotomy, the survival of both motor and sensory neurons was significantly improved. Thus, it appears that motor and sensory neurons in the neonatal mouse do not initiate a typical Hsp70 response after traumatic injury and that administration of exogenous Hsc/Hsp70 can remedy that deficit and reduce the subsequent loss of neurons by apoptosis.