Heat stress is known to render rat islet cells resistant against the toxic effects of nitric oxide, reactive oxygen intermediates and the islet cell toxin streptozotocin. We report here for the first time that protection against nitric oxide is mediated by the major heat shock protein, hsp70, even in the absence of heat stress. The human hsp70 gene was stably transfected into the rat insulinoma cell line RINm5F. Constitutive expression of hsp70 caused protection from NO-induced cell lysis which was of the same extent as seen after heat stressing cells. Our results identify hsp70 as a defence molecule against nitric oxide.