Carotenoids are isoprenoid pigments that function as photoprotectors, precursors of the hormone abscisic acid (ABA), colorants and nutraceuticals. A major problem for the metabolic engineering of high carotenoid levels in plants is the limited supply of their isoprenoid precursor geranylgeranyl diphosphate (GGPP), formed by condensation of isopentenyl diphosphate (IPP) and dimethylallyl diphosphate (DMAPP) units usually synthesized by the methylerythritol phosphate (MEP) pathway in plastids. Our earlier work with three of the seven MEP pathway enzymes suggested that the first reaction of the pathway catalyzed by deoxyxylulose 5-phosphate synthase (DXS) is limiting for carotenoid biosynthesis during tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum) fruit ripening. Here we investigate the contribution of the enzyme hydroxymethylbutenyl diphosphate reductase (HDR), which simultaneously synthesizes IPP and DMAPP in the last step of the pathway. A strong upregulation of HDR gene expression was observed in correlation with carotenoid production during both tomato fruit ripening and Arabidopsis thaliana seedling deetiolation. Constitutive overexpression of the tomato cDNA encoding HDR in Arabidopsis did not increase carotenoid levels in etioplasts. By contrast, light-grown transgenic plants showed higher carotenoid levels and an enhanced seed dormancy phenotype suggestive of increased ABA levels. The analysis of double transgenic Arabidopsis plants overproducing both the enzyme taxadiene synthase (which catalyzes the production of the non-native isoprenoid taxadiene from GGPP) and either HDR or DXS showed a twofold stronger effect of HDR in increasing taxadiene levels. Together, the data support a major role for HDR in controlling the production of MEP-derived precursors for plastid isoprenoid biosynthesis.