Although bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are an attractive cell therapy candidate, their potential is limited by poor survival following transplantation. Over-expression of anti-apoptotic heat shock proteins using viral vectors can improve the survival of these cells under stressful conditions in vitro and in vivo. It is also possible to induce heat shock protein expression in many cell types by simply exposing them to a transient, nonlethal elevation in temperature. The response profile of MSCs to such a thermal stress has not yet been reported. Therefore, this study sought to determine the kinetics of thermally induced heat shock protein expression by MSCs in vitro. To determine if heat shock protein expression was a function of thermal stress exposure time, MSCs were exposed to 42 degrees C for 15, 30, 45, and 60 min and were harvested 24 h later. To establish the time-course of heat shock protein expression, MSCs were heat shocked for 60 min and harvested 2, 24, 48, 72, 96, and 120 h later. The cells were then analyzed for Hsp27 and Hsp70 expression by Western blot. Densitometric analysis revealed that exposure to a thermal stress induced expression of both Hsp27 and Hsp70 and that the level of expression was dependant on stress exposure time. Following 60 min of heat stress, both Hsp27 and Hsp70 accumulated maximal expression after 48 h with both proteins returning to constitutive expression levels by 120 h. This study demonstrates that heat shock protein expression can be induced in MSCs by a simple thermal stress.