Apoptosis and necrosis, two morphologically distinct forms of cell death, can be induced by common stimuli depending on the doses and the cell type. This study compares the protective effect of oncoprotein Bcl-2 and of the small stress protein Hsp27 on these two types of cell death. We use rat embryo fibroblasts conditionally immortalized by the tsA58 mutant of SV40 large T antigen as parental cells to develop cell lines carrying inducible bcl-2 or hsp27 genes. Two apoptotic stimuli were used: shift to the restrictive temperature that induced p53-mediated apoptosis and treatment with low doses of hydrogen peroxide. Necrosis was induced by high doses of hydrogen peroxide. Although Bcl-2 and Hsp27 protect these cells from necrotic death, only Bcl-2 appears capable of preventing apoptotic death. Bcl-2 protection is not mediated by a negative effect on the induction of the p53 responsive genes bax or waf1 but it slows down at least two stages of apoptosis: decrease of mitochondrial membrane potential and subsequent morphological changes. In contrast, although Hsp27 has been recently shown to inhibit apoptosis induced by various stimuli, its overexpression has no effect on apoptosis in this cell system. It should be also noticed that the apoptotic stimuli (temperature shift or hydrogen peroxide treatment) induce Hsp27, but not Bcl-2 accumulation suggesting that, in parental cells, Hsp27 might already provide some protection. However, taken together these results suggest that Hsp27, as well as Bcl-2, acts at several levels to inhibit cell death, but that their protective functions only partially overlap.