The heat shock response is an inducible protective system of all living cells. It simultaneously induces both heat shock proteins and an increased capacity for the cell to withstand potentially lethal temperatures (an increased thermotolerance). This has lead to the suspicion that these two phenomena must be inexorably linked. However, analysis of heat shock protein function in Saccharomyces cerevisiae by molecular genetic techniques has revealed only a minority of the heat shock proteins of this organism having appreciable influences on thermotolerance. Instead, physiological perturbations and the accumulation of trehalose with heat stress may be more important in the development of thermotolerance during a preconditioning heat shock. Vegetative S. cerevisiae also acquires thermotolerance through osmotic dehydration, through treatment with certain chemical agents and when, due to nutrient limitation, it arrests growth in the G1 phase of the cell cycle. There is evidence for the activities of the cAMP-dependent protein kinase and plasma membrane ATPase being very important in thermotolerance determination. Also, intracellular water activity and trehalose probably exert a strong influence over thermotolerance through their effects on stabilisation of membranes and intracellular assemblies. Future investigations should address the unresolved issue of whether the different routes to thermotolerance induction cause a common change to the physical state of the intracellular environment, a change that may result in an increased stabilisation of cellular structures through more stable hydrogen bonding and hydrophobic interactions.