Heat shock proteins (hsp) have been repeatedly implicated to participate in the pathogenesis of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Herein, we investigated the regulation of synovial hsp70 expression by analyzing the DNA-binding activity of heat shock transcription factor 1 (HSF1) as well as inducible hsp70 expression. Experiments were performed both on synovial tissue and on synovial fibroblast-like cells (SFC). Gel mobility shift analysis revealed increased HSF1 activation, and Western blotting and immunohistochemistry revealed increased hsp70 expression in RA synovial tissue, but not in synovial tissue derived from patients with osteoarthritis. Proinflammatory cytokines (TNF-alpha, IL-1alpha, IL-6), but not IFN-gamma or TGF-beta, induced activation of HSF1-DNA binding and hsp70 expression in cultivated SFC. Activation of HSF1 in SFC was accompanied by hyperphosphorylation and nuclear translocation of HSF1. Furthermore, shear stress also induced a complete heat shock response in cultivated synovial cells. In contrast, nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs triggered only an incomplete heat shock response, with HSF1 activation but not hsp70 induction, whereas steroids and immunosuppressive drugs did not affect the heat shock response at all. In summary, these data suggest that induction of hsp70 expression in rheumatoid synovial tissue is based on transcriptional activation of HSF1 due to the presence of proinflammatory cytokines (and possibly also shear stress).