The major heat shock protein Hsp72 prevents heat-induced apoptosis. We have previously demonstrated that transiently expressed Hsp72 exerts its anti-apoptotic effect by suppressing the activity of stress-kinase JNK, an early component of the apoptotic pathway initiated by heat shock. On the other hand, constitutive expression of Hsp72 does not lead to suppression of heat-induced JNK activation, yet still efficiently prevents apoptosis. To address this apparent contradiction, we studied the effects of constitutively expressed Hsp72 on activation of JNK and apoptosis in Rat-1 fibroblasts. We found that the level of heat-induced apoptosis directly correlated with the duration rather than the magnitude of JNK activity following heat shock. Constitutively expressed Hsp72 strongly reduced the duration of JNK while it did not suppress initial JNK activation. These effects were due to Hsp72-mediated acceleration of JNK dephosphorylation. Addition of vanadate to inhibit JNK phosphatase activity completely prevented the anti-apoptotic action of Hsp72. Therefore, suppression of heat-induced apoptosis by Hsp72 could be fully accounted for by its effects on JNK activity.