The low-molecular-weight heat-shock protein HSP23 is synthesized in the absence of heat shock during Drosophila development. Here, I present a quantitative analysis of this phenomenon and describe the cellular localization of this protein during normal development and after a subsequent heat shock. HSP23 is first detected in the late third instar larvae and continues to accumulate reaching a maximum level in late pupae. In a 1-week-old adult, HSP23 can no longer be detected. Following lysis of whole pupae, HSP23 is found in the soluble lysate fraction in a form which sediments between 10 and 20 S. Exposure of larvae, pupae, and the adult fly to heat stress (37 degrees C) results in an increased amount of HSP23 which, however, is recovered in an insoluble particulate form following insect lysis. During recovery from heat shock, HSP23 is again found in the soluble 10- to 20-S lysate fraction. In pupae which are exposed to a severe heat stress (41 degrees C) HSP23 remains in the pellet fraction after the heat stress and no pupae are able to emerge as adult flies. However, when pupae are first exposed to a mild heat-shock treatment prior to the 41 degrees C stress, the thermotolerance process is induced and HSP23 is again rapidly found in the soluble lysate fraction during the recovery from heat shock. These observations suggest a possible correlation between the survival of pupae after heat shock and the recovery of HSP23 in the soluble lysate fraction as 10- to 20-S structures after the heat shock.