The dnaK gene of an ammonia-oxidizing bacterium, Nitrosomonas europaea, was cloned and sequenced. It was found that the dnaK gene product was highly homologous to previously analyzed dnaK gene products from other organisms at the amino acid level. Two partial open reading frames located upstream and downstream of the dnaK gene were also found and identified as grpE and dnaJ genes, respectively, by the predicted amino acid homology of their gene products to other bacterial GrpE and DnaJ proteins. Transcription of the dnaK gene was strongly induced by a heat shock from 30 to 37 degrees C. An analysis of the expression of the dnaK gene fused to the lacZ translational reporter gene also showed eightfold increase in beta-galactosidase activity after the heat shock induction. Heat-inducible transcription start sites of the dnaK gene, revealed by primer extension analysis, were located 16 and 17 nucleotides upstream from the translational start codon of the dnaK gene, and the predicted promoter sequence showed a homology to the consensus sequence of sigma 32-dependent heat shock promoters of gram-negative bacteria. The upstream region of the dnaK gene did not contain the inverted repeat structure that was involved in the regulation of the heat shock gene of several gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria. Therefore, we conclude that the heat shock regulatory mechanism of the N. europaea dnaK gene may be similar to the sigma 32-dependent mechanism observed in other gram-negative bacteria.