Plastids of higher plants operate with at least two distinct DNA-dependent RNA polymerases, which are encoded in the organelle (PEP) and in the nucleus (NEP), respectively. Plastid run-on assays and Northern analyses were employed to analyse gene expression in tobacco mutant plastids lacking the PEP genes rpoA, rpoB or rpoC1. Hybridisation of run-on transcripts to restriction fragments representing the entire tobacco plastid chromosome, as well as to selected plastid gene-specific probes, shows that all parts of the plastid DNA are transcribed in rpo-deficient plastids. In comparison to wild-type chloroplasts, which are characterized by preferential transcription of photosynthesis-related genes in the light, mutant plastids exhibit a different transcription pattern with less pronounced differences in the hybridisation intensities between the individual genes. The analysis of steady-state transcript patterns and transcription rates of selected genes in both types of plastids demonstrates that differences in transcription rates are not necessarily paralleled by corresponding changes in transcript levels. The accumulation of large transcripts in the mutant plastids indicates that processing of primary transcripts may be impaired in the absence of PEP. These data suggest that, contrary to the prevailing view, much of the regulation of NEP-driven plastid gene expression in the rpo-deficient mutants is not based on differential promoter usage but is exerted at post-transcriptional levels.