Translational regulation was evaluated for over 2000 genes by measurement of the proportion of individual mRNA species in polysomal (PS) complexes in leaves of non-stressed and moderately dehydration-stressed Arabidopsis. The amount of each mRNA in polysomes ranged from 23 to 97% in non-stressed leaves and was significantly reduced for a large portion of the genes (71%) in response to dehydration. The effect of dehydration on translational status varied extensively between mRNA species. Sixty per cent of the dehydration-inducible mRNAs with twofold or greater increase in abundance maintained PS levels in response to water-deficit stress, while 40% showed impaired ribosome loading (RL). PS association declined significantly for 92% of the mRNAs that displayed a strong decrease in abundance, indicating a relationship between translation and decreased gene transcription and/or mRNA stability. Interestingly, many mRNAs that encode proteins of similar biological function displayed coordinate translational regulation. Thus, the abundance of PS mRNA may provide a more accurate estimate of gene expression than total cellular mRNA because of extensive differential translational regulation.