OBJECTIVETumours are commonly hypoxic and this can be associated with aggressive tumour type, metastasis and resistance to therapy. Heat shock proteins (hsps) are induced in response to hypoxia, provide cancer cells with protection against tumour-associated stressors and chaperone oncoproteins that drive tumour proliferation. This study examined the effect of different oxygen concentrations on the expression of hsps in melanoma cell lines.METHODSMelanoma cell lines were cultured in 2% and 20% O(2). Expression of Hsp90, Hsp70, Hsp60, Hsp40 and Hsp32 proteins were determined by flow cytometry.RESULTSGrowth rates and viability were reduced in the majority of cell lines by culture in 2% O(2). Hsp expression was different in 2% compared to 20% O(2) and changes in Hsp90 expression correlated with cell line generation time (P<0.005) and viability (P<0.01). Greater total hsp expression correlated with improved viability in 2% but not 20% O(2) (P<0.05). Relative expression of the different hsps was consistent across cell lines and each correlated with the others (P = 0.0001) but not with Hsp32. Hsp expression was inversely correlated with cell line adhesion to laminin as well as collagen type IV and Breslow depth of the original primary tumour tissue (P<0.05), but not with Clark level or patient survival. All five hsps were identified on the cell surface.CONCLUSIONCulture in 2% O(2) variably altered hsp expression in a panel of melanoma cell lines. Hsp expression was associated with certain cell line characteristics and clinical parameters of the originating tumour.