Heat shock proteins (HSP) or stress proteins serve as biomarkers to identify the contribution of stress situations underlying the pathogenesis of degenerative diseases of the CNS. We have analyzed by immunoblot technique the constitutive and inducible occurance of stress proteins in cultured rat brain oligodendrocytes subjected to heat shock or oxidative stress exerted by hydrogen peroxide, or a combination of both. The data demonstrate that oligodendrocytes constitutively express HSP32, HSP60 and the cognate form of the HSP70 family of proteins, HSC70. After heat shock, HSP25, αB-crystallin and HSP70 were up-regulated, while after oxidative stress the specific induction of HSP32 and αB-crystallin was observed. HSP32 represents heme oxygenase 1 (HO-1), a small stress protein with enzymatic activity involved in the oxidative degradation of heme which participates in iron metabolism. The presence of the iron chelators phenanthroline or deferoxamine (DFO), which previously has been shown to protect oligodendrocytes from oxidative stress-induced onset of apoptosis, caused a marked stimulation of HSP32 without affecting HSP70. This indicates that DFO possibly exerts its protective role by directly influencing the antioxidant capacity of HO-1. In summary, HSP in oligodendrocytes are differentially stimulated by heat stress and oxidative stress. Heme oxygenase-1 has been linked to inflammatory processes and oxidative stress, its specific up-regulation after oxidative stress in oligodendrocytes suggests that it is an ideal candidate to investigate the involvement of oxidative stress in demyelinating diseases.