Clones encoding a thiolprotease (tpp) have been isolated from a cDNA library of unpollinated, senescent pea ovaries and its pattern of expression during both ovary senescence and parthenocarpic development have been studied. The sequence of the tpp cDNA displays a high similarity with other plant and animal thiolproteases of the papain group. The homology is highest around the Cys-His of the active centre; a 109 amino acid sequence at the carboxy terminus was found to be homologous only to thiolproteases of plant origin; this part of the mRNA is also present in another pea mRNA that exhibits similar patterns of induction. tpp mRNA shows a temporal pattern of accumulation that precedes that observed for proteolytic activity. Such accumulation did not occur when ovaries were induced to grow parthenocarpically by gibberellic acid (GA) treatment; furthermore the initial low level of expression present in ovaries decreased after GA treatment, indicating that the gene is down-regulated by gibberellins. Spatially, tpp mRNA is localized mainly within the ovule and ovary vascular elements, and transiently within the endocarp of senescent ovaries. This pattern of expression precedes the development of the cytopathogenic effects observed as unpollinated ovaries undergo senescence.