Heat shock proteins (HSPs) or stress proteins are synthesized by cells in response to environmental stress. Expression of HSPs by cells may have important physiological or pathological implications. In this study, we carried out an immunohistochemical and biochemical examination of low (hsp27), intermediate (hsp60), and high (hsp89) molecular weight HSP expression in reactive lymph nodes and in lymph nodes of patients with various types of lymphomas. In normal or reactive lymphoid tissues, hsp89 is abundant in large "transformed" lymphoid cells and immunoblasts. Hsp60 is widely distributed in lymphoid tissues, whereas hsp27 is absent in all lymphoid cells and histiocytes. Among lymphomas, the Hodgkin's Reed-Sternberg (H-RS) cells in Hodgkin's disease (HD) had the greatest abundance of hsp89 and hsp60 and, in 20% of cases, hsp27, in contrast to a much weaker staining of anti-hsp89 and -hsp60 in the background reactive lymphoid cells. The large lymphoid cells in small lymphocytic lymphoma are also rich in hsp89, but not hsp60 and hsp27. In contrast, the malignant cells in anaplastic large cell lymphoma and most high-grade tumors, including immunoblastic lymphomas, expressed minimal amounts of hsp89 and hsp60 and virtually no hsp27. Thus, the cellular level of HSPs was neither correlated with the proliferative capacity nor with the aggressiveness of the lymphomas. Hsp89, hsp60, and hsp27, as well, serve critical roles in the chaperoning of cellular proteins (e.g., a Mr 43,000 protein) in H-RS cells. The known interactions of HSPs with Rb, p53, peptide-MHC class II complexes, and cofactors of the glucocorticoid hormone receptor have further broadened the importance of HSPs in cell metabolism and in response to extracellular signals for proliferation, differentiation, or growth suppression (or apoptosis) of H-RS cells. Abundant HSP expression is seen only in HD, but not in other lymphomas. Such expression could have vital roles in the pathogenesis of HD.