The induction of focal cerebral ischaemia in rats by middle cerebral artery occlusion has previously been shown to increase, over time, the mRNA levels of the heat shock proteins (HSPs) 27 and 70. However, the levels of HSP90 mRNA remain constant. In contrast, during global ischaemia, HSP70 and HSP90 mRNA levels are both raised, particularly in the CA1 neurons in the hippocampus, an area that is resistant to the insult in comparison to the surrounding regions. HSP27 mRNA is raised in the neuroglia in the subregions of the hippocampus. However, the protein levels of HSP27, 70 and 90 have not been characterised in focal ischaemia. With this data in mind, we have carried out a comparative study of HSP27, 56, 60, 70 and 90 mRNA and protein levels during focal cerebral ischaemia in rats, up to 24 h post-occlusion. We have shown that HSP70 and HSP27 mRNA levels are increased and also that HSP60 mRNA levels (which had also not previously been characterised in this model of focal ischaemia) are significantly raised. HSP90 and HSP56 mRNAs were not significantly elevated. On Western blot analysis, the inducible HSP72 protein was first detected at 8 h post-occlusion, HSP27 protein was detected only at 24 h post-occlusion and HSP60 protein, although constitutive, appeared to increase at 24 h post-occlusion. HSP56 protein levels appeared to rise on the occluded side, but HSP90 protein levels remained constant.