Anthocyanidin synthase (ANS), an enzyme of the biosynthetic pathway to anthocyanin, has been postulated to catalyze the reaction(s) from the colorless leucoanthocyanidins to the colored anthocyanidins. Although cDNAs have been isolated that encode putative ANS, which exhibits significant similarities in amino acid sequence with members of a family of 2-oxoglutarate-dependent oxygenases, no biochemical evidence has been presented which identifies the actual reaction that is catalyzed by ANS. Here we show that anthocyanidins are formed in vitro through 2-oxoglutarate-dependent oxidation of leucoanthocyanidins catalyzed by the recombinant ANS and subsequent acid treatment. A cDNA encoding ANS was isolated from red and green formas of Perilla frutescens by differential display of mRNA. Recombinant ANS tagged with maltose-binding-protein (MBP) was purified, and the formation of anthocyanidins from leucoanthocyanidins was detected by the ANS-catalyzed reaction in the presence of ferrous ion, 2-oxoglutarate and ascorbate, being followed by acidification with HCI. Equimolar stoichiometry was confirmed for anthocyanidin formation and liberation of CO2 from 2-oxoglutarate. The presumptive two-copy gene of ANS was expressed in leaves and stems of the red forma of P. frutescens but not in the green forma plant. This corresponds to the accumulation pattern of anthocyanin. The mechanism of the reaction catalyzed by ANS is discussed in relation to the molecular evolution of a family of 2-oxoglutarate-dependent oxygenases.