A 2.4 kb fragment containing the 5'-flanking region and the 5'-noncoding sequence of the Vicia faba legumin gene LeB4 mediates high level seed-specific expression in transgenic tobacco plants. Deleted derivatives of this legumin upstream sequence were fused to the npt-II reporter gene to determine the tissue-specific activity of the chimeric constructs in stably transformed tobacco plants. The results indicate the presence of positive regulatory, enhancer-like cis elements within 566 bp of the upstream sequence. Most importantly, however, these elements are only fully functional in conjunction with the core motif CATGCATG of the legumin box around position -95, since destruction of the motif by a 6 bp deletion in an otherwise intact 2.4 kb upstream sequence drastically reduces expression in seeds. At the same time, low level expression in leaves is observed. The occurrence of similar CATGCATG consensus cis elements with alternating purine and pyrimidine base pairs in front of several other plant genes suggests a functional role of the motif in a wider range of plant promoters.