We have isolated and characterized four tobacco homeobox genes, NTH1, NTH9, NTH20, NTH22 (Nicotiana tabacum homeobox) which belong to the class 1 knotted1-type family of homeobox genes. Comparison of the inferred amino acid sequences of the ELK homeodomains of these genes and previously reported kn1-type class 1 proteins has revealed that the four new tobacco genes belong to distinct subclasses, suggesting that each NTH gene may have distinct functions. Using in situ hybridization and by analysing the distribution of GUS activity in tobacco plants transformed with NTH promoter::GUS constructs, localized expression of the three NTH genes was observed in the shoot apical meristem (SAM). In the vegetative SAM, NTH1 and NTH15 showed overlapping expression in the corpus, NTH20 was expressed in the peripheral zone, and NTH9 was predominantly expressed in the rib zone. The expression patterns of the different NTH genes correspond to regions predicted by the cytohistological zonation model, suggesting that each NTH gene specifies the function of the SAM zone with which it is associated.