Three Caulobacter crescentus heat-shock proteins were shown to be immunologically related to the Escherichia coli heat-shock proteins GroEL, Lon and DnaK. A fourth heat-shock protein was detected with antibody to the C. crescentus RNA polymerase. This 37,000 Mr heat-shock protein might be related to the E. coli 32,000 Mr heat-shock sigma subunit. The synthesis of the major C. crescentus RNA polymerase sigma factor was not induced by heat shock. The E. coli GroEL protein and the related protein from C. crescentus were also induced by treatment with hydrogen peroxide. Like some of the proteins in the heat-shock protein families of Drosophila and yeast, the four heat-shock proteins in C. crescentus were found to be regulated developmentally under normal conditions. All four proteins were synthesized in the predivisional cell, but the progeny showed cell type-specific bias in the level of enhanced synthesis after heat shock. The 92,000 Mr Lon homolog and the 37,000 Mr RNA polymerase subunit were preferentially synthesized in the stalked cell, whereas the synthesis of the 62,000 Mr GroEL homolog was enhanced in the progeny swarmer cell. Furthermore, the four heat-shock proteins synthesized in the predivisional cell were partitioned in a specific manner upon cell division. The stalked cell, which initiates chromosome replication immediately upon division, received the Lon homolog, the DnaK homolog and the 37,000 Mr RNA polymerase subunit. The GroEL homolog, however, was distributed equally to both the stalked cell and the swarmer cell. These results provide access to the functions of C. crescentus heat-shock proteins under both normal and stress conditions. They also allow an investigation of the regulatory signals that modulate the asymmetric distribution of proteins and their subsequent cell type-specific expression in the initial stages of a developmental program.