AIM OF THE STUDY: Thermal stress is a central determinant of osseous surgical outcomes. Interestingly, the temperatures measured during endosseous surgeries coincide with the temperatures that elicit the heat shock response of mammalian cells. The heat shock response is a coordinated biochemical response that helps to protect cells from stresses of various forms. Several protective proteins, termed heat shock proteins (hsp) are produced as part of this response. To begin to understand the role of the stress response of osteoblasts during surgical manipulation of bone, the heat shock protein response was evaluated in osteoblastic cells. MATERIALS AND METHODS: With primary cell culture studies and ROS 17/2.8 osteoblastic cells transfected with hsp27 encoding vectors culture studies, the thermal stress response of mammalian osteoblastic cells was evaluated by immunohistochemistry and western blot analysis. RESULTS: Immunocytochemistry indicated that hsp27 was present in unstressed osteoblastic cells, but not fibroblastic cells. Primarily cultured osteoblasts and fibroblasts expressed the major hsp in response to thermal stress, however, the small Mr hsp, hsp27 was shown to be a constitutive product only in osteoblasts. Creation of stable transformed osteoblastic cells expressing abundant hsp27 protein was used to demonstrate that hsp27 confers stress resistance to osteoblastic cells. CONCLUSIONS: The demonstrable presence and function of hsp27 in cultured bones and cells implicates this protein as a determinant of osteoblastic cell fate in vivo.