The global response to phosphate starvation was analysed at the transcriptional level in two closely related strains of Sinorhizobium meliloti, Rm1021 and Rm2011. The Pho regulon is known to be induced by PhoB under conditions of phosphate limitation. Ninety-eight genes were found to be significantly induced (more than three-fold) in a phoB -dependent manner in phosphate-stressed cells, and phoB -independent repression of 86 genes was observed. Possible roles of these genes in the phosphate stress response are discussed. Twenty new putative PHO box sequences were identified in regions upstream of 17 of the transcriptional units that showed phoB -dependent, or partially phoB -dependent, regulation, indicating direct regulation of these genes by PhoB. Despite the overall similarity between the phosphate stress responses in Rm1021 and Rm2011, lower induction rates were found for a set of phoB -dependent genes in Rm1021. Moreover, Rm1021 exhibited moderate constitutive activation of 12 phosphate starvation-inducible, phoB -dependent genes when cells were grown in a complex medium. A 1-bp deletion was observed in the pstC ORF in Rm1021, which results in truncation of the protein product. This mutation is probably responsible for the expression of phosphate starvation-inducible genes in Rm1021 in the absence of phosphate stress.