Differential display was used to isolate early ethylene-regulated genes from late immature green tomato fruit in order to obtain a broader understanding of the molecular basis by which ethylene coordinates the ripening process. Nineteen novel ethylene-responsive (ER) cDNA clones were isolated that fell into three classes: (i) ethylene up-regulated (ii) ethylene down-regulated, and (iii) transiently induced. Expression analysis revealed that ethylene-dependent changes in mRNA accumulation occurred rapidly (15 min) for most of the ER clones. The predicted proteins encoded by the ER genes are putatively involved in processes as diverse as primary metabolism, hormone signalling and stress responses. Although a number of the isolated ER clones correspond to genes already documented in other species, their responsiveness to ethylene is described here for the first time. Among the ER clones sharing high homology with regulatory genes, ER43, a putative GTP-binding protein, and ER50, a CTR1-like clone, are potentially involved in signal transduction. ER24 is homologous to the multi-protein bridging factor MBF1 involved in transcriptional activation, and finally, two clones are homologous to genes involved in post-transcriptional regulation: ER49, a putative translational elongation factor, and ER68, a mRNA helicase-like gene. Six ER clones correspond to as yet unidentified genes. The expression studies indicated that all the ER genes are ripening-regulated, and, depending on the clone, show changes in transcript accumulation either at the breaker, turning, or red stage. Analysis of transcript accumulation in different organs indicated a strong bias towards expression in the fruit for many of the clones. The potential roles for some of the ER clones in propagating the ethylene response and regulating fruit ripening are discussed.