Previous work has implicated heat shock transcription factor 1 (HSF1) as the primary transcription factor responsible for the transcriptional response to heat stress in mammalian cells. We characterized the heat shock response of mammalian cells by measuring changes in transcript levels and assaying binding of HSF1 to promoter regions for candidate heat shock genes chosen by a combination of genome-wide computational and experimental methods. We found that many heat-inducible genes have HSF1 binding sites (heat shock elements, HSEs) in their promoters that are bound by HSF1. Surprisingly, for 24 heat-inducible genes, we detected no HSEs and no HSF1 binding. Furthermore, of 182 promoters with likely HSE sequences, we detected HSF1 binding at only 94 of these promoters. Also unexpectedly, we found 48 genes with HSEs in their promoters that are bound by HSF1 but that nevertheless did not show induction after heat shock in the cell types we examined. We also studied the transcriptional response to heat shock in fibroblasts from mice lacking the HSF1 gene. We found 36 genes in these cells that are induced by heat as well as they are in wild-type cells. These results provide evidence that HSF1 does not regulate the induction of every transcript that accumulates after heat shock, and our results suggest that an independent posttranscriptional mechanism regulates the accumulation of a significant number of transcripts.