The administration of sodium butyrate at 0.75 mM induced the functional differentiation of U-937 human promonocytic leukemia cells with negligible cell mortality. However, the drug rapidly caused cell death with characteristics of apoptosis when used at concentrations of 5 mM and above. In addition, butyrate stimulated the expression of the stress-responsive heat-shock protein 70 (HSP70) gene when applied at both differentiation-inducing and apoptosis-inducing concentrations. The induction of HSP70 by butyrate was inhibited by the simultaneous addition of cAMP-increasing agents (dibutyryl cAMP or the combination of forskolin plus theophylline). However, these agents did not prevent differentiation and only partially reduced apoptosis. Moreover, the DNA topoisomerase II inhibitor etoposide, which provoked U-937 cell differentiation and apoptosis with the same or greater efficiency than butyrate, failed to stimulate HSP70 expression. Finally, it was observed that cAMP-increasing agents also abrogated the induction of HSP70 and reduced the apoptosis caused by cadmium chloride, a typical inducer of the stress response. Taken together, these results indicate that HSP70 expression is not required for differentiation of promonocytic cells, as earlier proposed, and that butyrate probably triggers the stress response in these cells.