The abundance of Alu RNA is transiently increased by heat shock in human cell lines. This effect is specific to Alu repeats among Pol III transcribed genes, since the abundance of 7SL, 7SK, 5S and U6 RNAs is essentially unaffected by heat shock. The rapid induction of Alu expression precedes the heat shock induction of mRNAs for the ubiquitin and HSP 70 heat shock genes. Heat shock mimetics also transiently induce Alu expression indicating that increased Alu expression is a general cell-stress response. Cycloheximide treatment rapidly and transiently increases the abundance of Alu RNA. Again, compared with other genes transcribed by Pol III, this increase is specific to Alu. However, as distinguished from the cell stress response, cycloheximide does not induce expression of HSP 70 and ubiquitin mRNAs. Puromycin also increases Alu expression, suggesting that this response is generally caused by translational inhibition. The response of mammalian SINEs to cell stress and translational inhibition is not limited to SINEs which are Alu homologues. Heat shock and cycloheximide each transiently induce Pol III directed expression of B1 and B2 RNAs in mouse cells and C-element RNA in rabbit cells. Together, these three species exemplify the known SINE composition of placental mammals, suggesting that mammalian SINEs are similarly regulated and may serve a common function.