The intracellular location of the major induced mammalian heat shock (or stress) protein (Mr = 72,000) has been determined by both biochemical and immunological methods. This protein, shown here to be comprised of at least three structurally related isoforms, is produced at high levels within 30 min to 1 h following heat treatment of cells. Biochemical fractionation of cells grown under heat shock showed that following its synthesis a portion of the 72,000-Da protein (and its isoforms) becomes associated with the nucleus while some remains in the cytoplasm. Indirect immunofluorescence studies using antiserum directed against the major isoforms of the 72,000-Da protein were carried out in normal and heat-shocked cells as well as in cells grown under stress by exposure to either an amino acid analogue or to sodium arsenite. Diffuse cytoplasmic and nuclear staining was observed in cells grown at 37 degrees C. In cells grown under heat shock conditions, both the cytoplasmic staining and the nuclear staining were found to increase with the nuclear staining consisting of both granular and patch-like structures, the latter being coincident with phase-dense nucleoli. In the case of cells exposed to amino acid analogues or to sodium arsenite, only cytoplasmic and to a lesser extent nuclear staining was observed, i.e. no localized nucleolar fluorescence was observed. Following return of heat shock-treated cells to normal growth temperatures, both the synthesis of the 72,000-Dalton stress protein and its nucleolar staining were found to diminish.