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The effect of heat shock on Myxococcus xanthus was investigated during both glycerol- and starvation-induced development. Cells heat shocked at 40 degrees C for 1 h prior to a development-inducing signal displayed an accelerated rate of myxospore formation at 30 degrees C. Additionally, M. xanthus cells heat shocked prior to glycerol induction formed a greater total number of myxospores when sporulation was complete than did control cells maintained at 30 degrees C. However, in starvation-induced fruiting cells the total number of myxospores in control and heat-shocked populations was about equal when fruiting body and myxospore formation was complete. When extended heat shock (3 h) was applied to cells prior to development, no acceleration of myxospore formation was observed. Heat shock elicited the premature expression of many developmentally regulated proteins. Cell fractionation and analysis by sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis and fluorography revealed the subcellular location and molecular weights of the 18 glycerol-induced and 9 starvation-induced developmental proteins. Comparison with previously identified M. xanthus heat shock proteins showed that nine of the developmental proteins found in glycerol-induced cells and three of the developmental proteins found in starvation-induced cells were heat shock proteins. Furthermore, heat shock increased the activity of alkaline phosphatase, a developmentally regulated enzyme, in vegetative cells, glycerol-induced cells, and starvation-induced cells.