Heat shock proteins (Hsps), induced by cell stress, are known to protect against cellular injury. Recent studies have indicated that Hsp60 expression, induced by exposure to water immersion stress, protects against pancreatitis induced by administration of supramaximal doses of cerulein in rats. However, the mechanisms responsible for this protection are not known. Methods: Rats were water-immersed for 3-12 hours. Pancreatitis was induced by cerulein administration. Results: The results confirm that prior induction of Hsp60 expression by water-immersion stress significantly ameliorates the severity of cerulein-induced pancreatitis as judged by the markedly reduced degree of hyperamylasemia, pancreatic edema, and acinar cell necrosis. Water immersion also prevents the subcellular redistribution of cathepsin B from a lysosome- enriched fraction to a heavier, zymogen granule-enriched fraction that is known to occur in this model of pancreatitis. Intra-acinar cell activation of trypsinogen that occurs shortly after exposure to a supramaximally stimulating dose of cerulein both in vivo and in vitro is prevented by prior water-immersion stress and Hsp60 expression. The protection against pancreatitis that follows water-immersion stress is not caused by alterations of cholecystokinin receptors, because water immersion does not alter the typical biphasic amylase secretory response to stimulation with cerulein. Conclusions: Water-immersion stress induces Hsp60 expression, ameliorates cerulein-induced pancreatitis, and prevents intra-acinar cell activation of trypsinogen. We suggest that Hsp60 protects against cerulein-induced pancreatitis by preventing trypsinogen activation within acinar cells.