Heat shock proteins are highly conserved proteins present in organisms ranging from bacteria to man. They are both dominant microbial immunogens and among the first proteins produced during mammalian embryo development. Since bacterial and human heat shock proteins share a high degree of amino acid sequence homology, it has been suggested that sensitization to bacterial heat shock proteins during an infection may result in autoimmunity to human heat shock proteins. Infertile couples seeking in vitro fertilization (IVF) may have been previously sensitized to bacterial heat shock proteins as a consequence of an asymptomatic upper genital tract infection. Due to daily clinical monitoring and precisely timed fertilization these patients are an ideal study group to investigate the effect of prior sensitization to heat shock proteins on preimplantation embryo development and implantation failure. Immune sensitization at the level of the cervix to the 60 kD heat shock protein (hsp60) has been associated with implantation failure in some IVF patients. Similarly, the highest prevalence of circulating hsp60 antibodies among IVF patients was found in the sera of women whose embryos failed to develop in vitro. To more directly assess whether humoral immunity to hsp60 influenced in vitro embryo development, a mouse embryo culture model was established. Monoclonal antibody to mammalian hsp60 markedly impaired mouse embryo development in vitro. These data suggest that immune sensitization to human hsp60, possibly developed as a consequence of infection, may adversely affect pregnancy outcome in some patients.