E. coli bacteria respond to a sudden upward shift in temperature by transiently overproducing a small subset of their proteins, one of which is the product of the dnaK gene. Mutations in dnaK have been previously shown to affect both DNA and RNA synthesis in E. coli. Bacteria carrying the dnaK756 mutation fail to turn off the heat-shock response at 43 degrees C. Instead, they continue to synthesize the heat-shock proteins in large amounts and underproduce other proteins. Both reversion and P1 transduction analyses have shown that the failure to turn off the heat-shock response is the result of the dnaK756 mutation. In addition, bacteria that overproduce the dnaK protein at all temperatures undergo a drastically reduced heat-shock response at high temperature. We conclude that the dnaK protein is an inhibitor of the heat-shock response in E. coli.