Bacterial heat shock proteins (hsp) have been shown to be important immunogens stimulating both T cells and B cells. However, little is known concerning the direct interactions between hsp and macrophages. In this study, we demonstrated that treatment of macrophage cultures with purified bacterial hsp, including Legionella pneumophila hsp60, Escherichia coli GroEL, Mycobacterium tuberculosis hsp70, Mycobacterium leprae hsp65, and Mycobacterium bovis BCG hsp65, increased the steady-state levels of cytokine mRNA for interleukin-1 alpha (IL-1 alpha), IL-1 beta, IL-6, tumor necrosis factor alpha, and granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor as well as supernatant IL-1 secretion. This effect was shown not to be due to contamination of the hsp preparations with bacterial lipopolysaccharide. However, not all hsp induced cytokines; M. tuberculosis hsp10 showed minimal activity in our study. These results suggest that bacterial hsp might modulate immunity by rapidly and directly increasing cytokine production in macrophages.