The exercise-induced expression of heat shock proteins (HSPs) in rodent models is relatively well defined. In contrast, comparable data from human studies are limited and the exercise-induced stress response of human skeletal muscle is far from understood. This study has characterized the time course and magnitude of the HSP response in the skeletal muscles of a healthy active, but untrained, young male population following a running exercise protocol. Eight subjects performed 45 min of treadmill running at a speed corresponding to their lactate threshold (11.7 +/- 0.5 km/h; 69.8 +/- 4.8% maximum O2 uptake). Muscle biopsies were obtained from the vastus lateralis muscle immediately before and at 24 h, 48 h, 72 h, and 7 days postexercise. Exercise induced a significant (P < 0.05) but variable increase in HSP70, heat shock cognate (HSC) 70, and HSP60 expression with peak increases (typically occurring at 48 h postexercise) to 210, 170, and 139% of preexercise levels, respectively. In contrast, exercise did not induce a significant increase in either HSP27, alphaB-crystallin, SOD 2 (MnSOD) protein content, or the activity of SOD and catalase. When examining baseline protein levels, HSC70, HSP27, and alphaB-crystallin appeared consistently expressed between subjects, whereas HSP70 and MnSOD displayed marked individual variation of up to 3- and 1.5-fold, respectively. These data are the first to define the time course and extent of HSP production in human skeletal muscle following a moderately demanding and nondamaging running exercise protocol. Data demonstrate a differential effect of aerobic exercise on specific HSPs.