We have cloned and sequenced three different cDNAs from sunflower seed-stored mRNA. Sequence similarities and response to heat-shock identified one of the cDNAs as a low-molecular-weight heat-shock protein (lmw-HSP). The other two clones showed significant sequence similarity to the cotton and carrot late-embryogenesis-abundant (Lea) proteins D-113 and Emb-1, respectively. The three cDNAs showed similar expression patterns during zygotic embryo development, as well as in vegetative tissues of 3-day-old seedlings in response to stress. Maximal accumulation of all three mRNAs was detected in dry seeds and during embryo mid-maturation stage, in the absence of exogenous stress. In seedlings, mRNAs accumulated to lower levels in response to osmotic stress and exogenous abscisic acid (ABA) treatments. A differential time course of response to osmotic stress was observed: lmw-HSP mRNA accumulation was induced earlier than that of Lea mRNAs. The coordinate accumulation of Lea and lmw-HSP transcripts during embryo development and in response to stress and ABA suggests the existence of common regulatory elements for Lea and lmw-HSP genes, and supports the notion that HSPs might have alternative functions in the plant cell.