The present state of knowledge of the role of trehalose and trehalose hydrolysis catalyzed by trehalase (EC 184.108.40.206) in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae is reviewed. Trehalose is believed to function as a storage carbohydrate because its concentration is high during nutrient limitations and in resting cells. It is also believed to function as a stress metabolite because its concentration increases during certain adverse environmental conditions, such as heat and toxic chemicals. The exact way trehalose may perform the stress function is not understood, and conditions exist under which trehalose accumulation and tolerance to certain stress situations cannot be correlated. Three trehalases have been described in S. cerevisiae: 1) the cytosolic neutral trehalase encoded by the NTH1 gene, and regulated by cAMP-dependent phosphorylation process, nutrients, and temperature; 2) the vacuolar acid trehalase encoded by the ATH1 gene, and regulated by nutrients; and 3) a putative trehalase Nth1p encoded by the NTH2 gene (homolog of the NTH1 gene) and regulated by nutrients and temperature. The neutral trehalase is responsible for intracellular hydrolysis of trehalose, in contrast to the acid trehalase, which is responsible for utilization of extracellular trehalose. The role of the putative trehalase Nth2p in trehalose metabolism is not known. The NTH1 and NTH2 genes are required for recovery of cells after heat shock at 50 degrees C, consistent with their heat inducibility and sequence similarity. Other stressors, such as toxic chemicals, also induce the expression of these genes. We therefore propose that the NTH1 and NTH2 genes have stress-related function and the gene products may be called stress proteins. Whether the stress function of the trehalase genes is linked to trehalose is not clear, and possible mechanisms of stress protective function of the trehalases are discussed.