The cIII protein of phage lambda favors the lysogenic response to infection by inhibiting the degradation of the lambda cII protein, which exerts the primary control on the developmental decision for lysis or lysogeny. To study the mechanism and scope of cIII-mediated regulation, we have used plasmid systems to examine the specific effect of cIII overproduction on the growth of Escherichia coli and the synthesis of bacterial proteins. We have found that maximal production of cIII prolongs the heat-induced synthesis of E. coli heat shock proteins and provokes elevated production of heat shock proteins even at low temperature. The overproduction of heat shock proteins is correlated with a rapid inhibition of cell growth, as judged by measurements of optical density. We suggest that an overactive heat shock response inhibits bacterial growth, either because excessive production of one or more of the proteins is highly deleterious or because only heat shock promoters are transcribed efficiently. To examine the effect of cIII on sigma 32, the specificity factor for the heat shock response, we have studied the stability of sigma 32 in cells carrying both cIII- and sigma 32-producing plasmids; the half-life of sigma 32 is increased fourfold in the presence of cIII. We conclude that overproduction of cIII provokes the heat shock response by increasing the steady-state level of active sigma 32. These studies also support the concept that the rate of expression of heat shock proteins is directly correlated with the amount of active sigma 32 and that regulation of the stability of sigma 32 may be an important factor for control of the heat shock response.