A mild heat shock preconditioning has been shown to induce thermotolerance and protection against a number of cytotoxic agents that may induce cell death by either apoptosis or necrosis. 1-Methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP) is a neurotoxin that selectively targets dopaminergic cells of the substantia nigra and, as such, it is often used to induce neuronal cell death in models of Parkinson's disease. PC12 cells were heat-shocked for 1 h at 41.5degreesC. This led to a rapid induction of Hsp25 and Hsp70. Levels of these proteins remained elevated for at least 24 h post heat shock. Treatment of PC12 cells with 1-methyl-4-phenylpyridinium (MPP+), the active metabolite of MPTP, resulted in cell death. Morphological analysis and the lack of caspase activity suggested that cell death was by necrosis. Heat shocking the cells 6 h prior to addition of MPP+ significantly inhibited the induction of cell death by MPP+. These results indicated that heat shock is protective against MPP+ neurotoxicity in PC12 cells. (C) 2003 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.