Transcription of the ybcZ--ylcA ylcBCD--ybdE region of the Escherichia coli K38 chromosome was analysed by Northern RNA--DNA hybridization, RT-PCR and primer extension. Transcription of a dicistronic ybcZ--ylcA mRNA and a tetracistronic ylcBCD--ybdE mRNA was induced by silver and was initiated from the sigma-70 promoters ylcAp and ylcBp. Expression of beta-galactosidase activity from a Phi(ylcBp--lacZ) operon fusion was also induced by Ag(+) and Cu(2+), but not by Zn(2+). In-frame deletion of ybdE from the chromosome yielded a silver-sensitive E. coli mutant strain which did not differ in its copper resistance from its wild-type strain. On the other hand, deletion of the copA gene for the copper-exporting P-type ATPase CopA resulted in copper sensitivity, but not in silver sensitivity. A Delta ybdE Delta copA double mutant strain behaved towards copper as the Delta copA strain and towards silver as the Delta ybdE strain. Thus, in E. coli, the YlcBCD--YbdE system may be involved in silver- but not in copper resistance, and CopA may be involved in copper- but not in silver resistance.