cDNA clones encoding homologues of expansins, a class of cell wall proteins involved in cell wall modification, were isolated from various stages of growing and ripening fruit of tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum). cDNAs derived from five unique expansin genes were obtained, termed tomato Exp3 to Exp7, in addition to the previously described ripening-specific tomato Exp1 (Rose et al. (1997) Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 94: 5955-5960). Deduced amino acid sequences of tomato Exp1, Exp4 and Exp6 were highly related, whereas Exp3, Exp5 and Exp7 were more divergent. Each of the five expansin genes showed a different and characteristic pattern of mRNA expression. mRNA of Exp3 was present throughout fruit growth and ripening, with highest accumulation in green expanding and maturing fruit, and lower, declining levels during ripening. Exp4 mRNA was present only in green expanding fruit, whereas Exp5 mRNA was present in expanding fruit but had highest levels in full-size maturing green fruit and declined during the early stages of ripening. mRNAs from each of these genes were also detected in leaves, stems and flowers but not in roots. Exp6 and Exp7 mRNAs were present at much lower levels than mRNAs of the other expansin genes, and were detected only in expanding or mature green fruit. The results indicate the presence of a large and complex expansin gene family in tomato, and suggest that while the expression of several expansin genes may contribute to green fruit development, only Exp1 mRNA is present at high levels during fruit ripening.