Hsp78, a member of the family of Clp/Hsp100 proteins, exerts chaperone functions in mitochondria of S. cerevisiae which overlap with those of mitochondrial Hsp70. In the present study, the role of Hsp78 under extreme stress was analyzed. Whereas deletion of HSP78 does not affect cell growth at temperatures up to 39 decrees C and cellular thermotolerance at 50 degrees C, Hsp78 is crucial for maintenance of respiratory competence and for mitochondrial genome integrity under severe temperature stress (mitochondrial thermotolerance). Mitochondrial protein synthesis is identified as a thermosensitive process. Reactivation of mitochondrial protein synthesis after heat stress depends on the presence of Hsp78, though Hsp78 does not confer protection against heat-inactivation to this process. Hsp78 appears to act in concert with other mitochondrial chaperone proteins since a conditioning pretreatment of the cells to induce the cellular heat shock response is required to maintain mitochondrial functions under severe temperature stress. When expressed in the cytosol, Hsp78 can substitute for the homologous heat shock protein Hsp104 in mediating cellular thermotolerance, suggesting a conserved mode of action of the two proteins. Thus, proteins of the Clp/Hsp100-family located in the cytosol and within mitochondria confer compartment-specific protection against heat damage to the cell.