The aims of the present study were (i) to develop and test a sensitive and reproducible method for the study of gene expression in staphylococci and (ii) to study the expression of five housekeeping genes which are involved in nucleic acid metabolism (gmk, guanylate kinase; the dihydrofolate reductase [DHFR] gene), glucose metabolism (tpi, triosephosphate isomerase), and protein metabolism (the 16S rRNA gene; hsp-60, heat-shock protein 60) during in vitro exponential and stationary growth. A modified method for instant mRNA isolation was combined with gene quantification via Taqman real-time quantitative PCR. The detection limit of our method was 10 copies of RNA. The average intersample variability was 16%. A 10-fold increase in the expression of the hsp-60 gene was induced by exposure to a 10 degrees C heat shock (37 to 47 degrees C) for 10 min. During in vitro growth, the expression of all five housekeeping genes showed rapid up-regulation after inoculation of the bacteria in brain heart infusion medum and started to decline during the mid-exponential-growth phase. Maximal gene expression was 110- to 300-fold higher than gene expression during stationary phase. This indicates that housekeeping metabolism is a very dynamic process that is extremely capable of adapting to different growth conditions. Expression of the 16S rRNA gene decreases significantly earlier than that of other housekeeping genes. This confirms earlier findings for Escherichia coli that a decline in bacterial ribosomal content (measured by 16S rRNA gene expression) precedes the decline in protein synthesis (measured by mRNA expression).