The distribution and biosynthesis of indole-3-acetic acid (IAA) was investigated during early plant development in Arabidopsis. The youngest leaves analysed, less than 0.5 mm in length, contained 250 pg mg(-1) of IAA and also exhibited the highest relative capacity to synthesize this hormone. A decrease of nearly one hundred-fold in IAA content occurred as the young leaves expanded to their full size, and this was accompanied by a clear shift in both pool size and IAA synthesis capacity. The correlation between high IAA content and intense cell division was further verified in tobacco leaves, where a detailed analysis revealed that dividing mesophyll tissue contained ten-fold higher IAA levels than tissue growing solely by elongation. We demonstrated that all parts of the young Arabidopsis plant can potentially contribute to the auxin needed for growth and development, as not only young leaves, but also all other parts of the plant such as cotyledons, expanding leaves and root tissues have the capacity to synthesize IAA de novo. We also observed that naphthylphthalamic acid (NPA) treatment induced tissue-dependent feedback inhibition of IAA biosynthesis in expanding leaves and cotyledons, but intriguingly not in young leaves or in the root system. This observation supports the hypothesis that there is a sophisticated tissue-specific regulatory mechanism for auxin biosynthesis. Finally, a strict requirement for maintaining the pool sizes of IAA was revealed as reductions in leaf expansion followed both decreases and increases in the IAA levels in developing leaves. This indicates that leaves are not only important sources for IAA synthesis, but that normal leaf expansion depends on rigorous control of IAA homeostasis.