The opium poppy Papaver somniferum L. produces the antimicrobial benzo[c]phenanthridine alkaloid sanguinarine and the narcotic analgesic morphinan alkaloid morphine. Transcripts of three genes of alkaloid biosynthesis in P. somniferum in developing seedlings, mature plants and plant cell suspension culture were monitored for temporal/spatial or for methyl jasmonate-induced accumulation by RNA gel blot analysis. These genes encoded (S)-N-methylcoclaurine 3'-hydroxylase (CYP80B1) that is common to morphine and sanguinarine biosynthesis, the berberine bridge enzyme (BBE) that lies on the pathway to sanguinarine, and codeinone reductase (COR) the penultimate enzyme of morphine biosynthesis. In developing P. somniferum seedlings, the morphine precursor thebaine was present throughout the first twenty days of germination. In contrast, sanguinarine was present in detectable quantities only after day five after germination and continued to increase at least until day twenty. Accumulation of cyp80b1, bbe1 and cor1 gene transcripts paralleled these differences. In the mature poppy plant, cyp80b1, bbe1 and cor1 gene transcripts were detected in the root, the stem, the leaf lamina and the leaf mid rib. Only cyp80b1 and cor1, however, were found in the flower bud and the capsule. Consistent with the fact that sanguinarine accumulation, but not that of morphine, can be induced in opium poppy cell suspension culture by addition of methyl jasmonate to the culture medium, cyp80b1 and bbe1, but not cor1 transcript accumulated in response to elicitor treatment.