Four ubiquitin mRNA size classes were found to be differentially regulated in mesophyll protoplast-derived cultures of Nicotiana sylvestris. Three mRNA families of 1.9, 1.6 and 1.35 kb were expressed as soon as protoplasts were isolated. The 1.9 and 1.6 kb size classes were transiently expressed during the first hours of culture, whereas the level of expression of the 1.35 kb size class was maintained as long as cells kept dividing. A 0.7 kb mRNA size class started to be expressed just before the first divisions were observed. cDNAs corresponding to each of these families were isolated from a 6-h-old protoplast cDNA library and characterized. The 1.9, 1.6 and 1.35 kb mRNAs thus encode 7- or more, 6- and 5-mers, respectively, of ubiquitin whereas the 0.7 kb mRNAs encode a monomer of ubiquitin fused to a carboxyl extension protein of 52 amino acids. The expression of ubiquitin genes was studied, using probes specific for each of these transcript families, during protoplast culture and, for comparison, after various stresses including heat shock, HgCl2 treatment, a viral infection giving rise to a hypersensitive reaction, and an Agrobacterium tumefaciens infection which resulted in tumour formation. The 1.9 and 1.6 kb mRNA size classes were found to be stress-regulated, the 0.7 kb mRNA size class developmentally regulated and the 1.35 kb size class both stress- and developmentally regulated.