Here we show that the expression of a cysteine proteinase coincides with several developmental events associated with programmed cell death (PCD) in Solanum melongena (brinjal), i.e. during leaf senescence, fruit senescence, xylogenesis, nucellar cell degeneration and anther senescence. We have isolated a cDNA encoding brinjal cysteine proteinase (SmCP) that shares high (90-92%) amino acid identity to cysteine proteinases of tobacco (CYP-8) and tomato (LCYP-2) that have not been previously reported to be senescence-associated. In contrast, SmCP shows lower (39-41%) amino acid identity to other senescence-related cysteine proteinases and, unlike most of them, it is not preferentially expressed in certain organs or cell types. Northern analysis of leaves, fruits and flowers at different stages of development showed that SmCP expression increased significantly at senescence in leaf and fruit, but was highly expressed throughout flower development. In situ hybridization studies on flower sections using an antisense RNA probe localized the SmCP mRNA to the xylem, the epidermis and the endothecium of the anther and the nucellar cells, suggesting its involvement in PCD during xylogenesis, anther senescence and ovule development, respectively. Its expression during nucellar cell degeneration suggests that protein reserves of the nucellus are released to the developing embryo. Polarity in its pattern of expression in the nucellus of the developing seed (40DAP) further implies a directional flow of these nutrients.