The major heat-shock protein, hsp70, is synthesized by cells of many organisms in response to stress. In the present study, Drosophila hsp70 was expressed from cloned genes in mouse L cells and monkey COS cells and detected by immunofluorescence using monoclonal antibodies. Hsp70 is found mostly but not exclusively in the nucleus of unstressed cells. For several hours after a short heat shock, however, it is strongly concentrated in nucleoli. Nucleoli are transiently damaged by such a heat shock: their morphology changes and assembly and export of ribosomes is blocked for several hours. This block can be visualized by addition of actinomycin D: under normal conditions pre-ribosomes are chased out of nucleoli, and the latter shrink dramatically, but no such shrinking is seen in heat-shocked cells. High levels of hsp70 can be produced in unstressed COS cells by transfecting them with an appropriate expression plasmid. Such cells show a more rapid recovery of nucleolar morphology following a heat shock than do untransfected cells. Furthermore, heat shock does not prevent shrinkage of their nucleoli in the presence of actinomycin, which indicates that ribosome export also recovers rapidly when pre-synthesized hsp70 is present. I suggest that an important function of hsp70 is to catalyze reassembly of damaged pre-ribosomes and other RNPs after heat shock.