The effect of externally applied L-cysteine and glutathione (GSH) on ATP sulphurylase and adenosine 5'-phosphosulphate reductase (APR), two key enzymes of assimilatory sulphate reduction, was examined in Arabidopsis thaliana root cultures. Addition of increasing L-cysteine to the nutrient solution increased internal cysteine, gamma-glutamylcysteine and GSH concentrations, and decreased APR mRNA, protein and extractable activity. An effect on APR could already be detected at 0.2 mm L-cysteine, whereas ATP sulphurylase was significantly affected only at 2 mm L-cysteine. APR mRNA, protein and activity were also decreased by GSH at 0.2 mm and higher concentrations. In the presence of L-buthionine-S, R-sulphoximine (BSO), an inhibitor of GSH synthesis, 0.2 mm L-cysteine had no effect on APR activity, indicating that GSH formed from cysteine was the regulating substance. Simultaneous addition of BSO and 0.5 mm GSH to the culture medium decreased APR mRNA, enzyme protein and activity. ATP sulphurylase activity was not affected by this treatment. Tracer experiments using (35)SO(4)(2-) in the presence of 0.5 mm L-cysteine or GSH showed that both thiols decreased sulphate uptake, APR activity and the flux of label into cysteine, GSH and protein, but had no effect on the activity of all other enzymes of assimilatory sulphate reduction and serine acetyltransferase. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that thiols regulate the flux through sulphate assimilation at the uptake and the APR step. Analysis of radioactive labelling indicates that the flux control coefficient of APR is more than 0.5 for the intracellular pathway of sulphate assimilation. This analysis also shows that the uptake of external sulphate is inhibited by GSH to a greater extent than the flux through the pathway, and that the flux control coefficient of APR for the pathway, including the transport step, is proportionately less, with a significant share of the control exerted by the transport step.