We studied the physiological role of the 72 kDa extracellular heat shock protein (Hsp72, a stress-inducible protein) in modulating neutrophil chemotaxis during a single bout of intense exercise performed by sedentary women, together with various cell mechanisms potentially involved in the modulation. For each volunteer, we evaluated neutrophil chemotaxis and serum Hsp72 concentration before and immediately after a single bout of exercise (1 h on a cycle ergometer at 70% VO(2) max), and 24 h later. Both parameters were found to be stimulated by the exercise, and had returned to basal values 24 h later. In vitro, there was a dose-dependent increase in chemotaxis when neutrophils were incubated both with physiological Hsp72 concentrations and with a 100 x greater concentration. The chemotaxis was greater when the neutrophils were incubated with the post-exercise Hsp72 concentration than with the basal concentration, suggesting a physiological role for this protein in the context of the stimulation of neutrophil chemotaxis by intense exercise. The 100 x Hsp72 concentration stimulated chemotaxis even more strongly. In addition, Hsp72 was found to have chemoattractant and chemokinetic effects on the neutrophils at physiological concentrations, with these effects being significantly greater with the post-exercise than with the basal Hsp72 concentration. The Hsp72-induced stimulation of neutrophil chemotaxis disappeared when the toll-like receptor 2 (TLR-2) was blocked, and phosphatidylinositol-3-kinase (PI3K), extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK), and nuclear transcription factor kappa B (NF-kappaB) were also found to be involved in the signaling process. No changes were observed, however, in neutrophil intracellular calcium levels in response to Hsp72. In conclusion, physiological concentrations of the stress protein Hsp72 stimulate human neutrophil chemotaxis through TLR-2 with its cofactor CD14, involving ERK, NF-kappaB, and PI3K, but not iCa(2 + ), as intracellular messengers. In addition, Hsp72 seems to participate in the stimulation of chemotaxis induced by a single bout of intense exercise performed by sedentary women.