Saccharomyces cerevisiae cells exposed to 43 degrees C (normal being 30 degrees C) exhibit the synthesis of heat shock proteins (hsps). Time course studies indicated that the major hsps (97 kDa, 85 kDa and 70 kDa family) are induced within 10 min. of heat shock and attain maximum amount with two hours of treatment. The viability of cells decreased by 99% when directly frozen into liquid nitrogen. However, a prior heat shock (2 hours) increased the cell survival by 20-30 fold. Such an effect of prior heat shock treatment could be supported by light and electron microscopical studies. Differential scanning calorimetric analysis of whole cells revealed that heat shock treatment decreases the denaturation (delta H) of total cellular proteins. A direct correlation between the degree of hsp inducibility and protection against freezing and thawing injury was observed. Cycloheximide treatment curtailed the synthesis of hsps as well as protection against subsequent freezing. This suggests that prior heat shock treatment protects the cells from freezing injury and, furthermore, that hsps can act as biological cryoprotectants.