The heat shock response is transcriptionally regulated by an evolutionarily conserved protein termed heat shock factor (HSF). We report the purification to homogeneity and the partial peptide sequence of HSF from HeLa cells. The peptide sequence was used to isolate a human cDNA with a predicted open reading frame that has homology to the DNA binding domains of both Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Drosophila HSFs. The cDNA directs the synthesis of a protein that binds to the heat shock element with specificity identical to HeLa HSF and stimulates transcription from a heat shock promoter. The expressed protein cross-reacts with anti-HSF antibodies. Surprisingly, however, this cDNA does not encode all of the peptides obtained from purified HeLa HSF. These peptides are encoded by a distinct human cDNA, HSF1, described by Rabindran et al. [Rabindran, S. K., Giorgi, G., Clos, J. & Wu, C. (1991) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 88, 6906-6910.] It therefore appears that there is a human heat shock factor gene family and that at least two separate but related HSF proteins regulate the stress response in humans.