© 2020. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd. Protein aggregates that result in inclusion formation are a pathological hallmark common to many neurodegenerative diseases, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson's disease and Huntington's disease. Under conditions of cellular stress, activation of the heat shock response (HSR) results in an increase in the levels of molecular chaperones and is a first line of cellular defence against inclusion formation. It remains to be established whether neurodegenerative disease-associated proteins and inclusions are themselves capable of inducing an HSR in neuronal cells. To address this, we generated a neuroblastoma cell line that expresses a fluorescent reporter protein under conditions of heat shock transcription factor 1 (HSF1)-mediated HSR induction. We show that the HSR is not induced by exogenous treatment with aggregated forms of recombinant α-synuclein or the G93A mutant of superoxide dismutase-1 (SOD1G93A) nor intracellular expression of SOD1G93A or a pathogenic form of polyglutamine-expanded huntingtin (Htt72Q). These results suggest that pathogenic proteins evade detection or impair induction of the HSR in neuronal cells. A failure of protein aggregation to induce an HSR might contribute to the development of inclusion pathology in neurodegenerative diseases.This article has an associated First Person interview with the first author of the paper.