Two cytoplasmic male-sterile plants (CMSI and CMSII) were obtained by protoplast culture in Nicotiana sylvestris. Both plants showed large deletions (up to 50 kb) in their mitochondrial DNA. Restriction maps of the reorganized regions suggested that the deletions occurred via two homologous recombination events (rec. 1 and rec. 2) in the parental mitochondrial genome. With the exception of nad5, no mitochondrial DNA polymorphism could be detected between parental and CMS lines using different heterologous genes probes. A sequence homologous to the Oenothera nad5 mitochondrial gene was located close to the CMSI-specific rec. 2 region. Moreover, a cDNA probe corresponding to total mitochondrial RNA from the parent line was found to hybridize to mitochondrial DNA fragments involved in the rec. 1 event common to both CMS lines, suggesting that rec. 1 lies in a transcribed region. Cytoplasmic male sterility in the Nicotiana sylvestris CMS mutants could be due either to gene deletion or to a regulatory effect of such a deletion on mitochondrial gene expression, rather than to the presence of specific polypeptides as has been shown in the T cytoplasm of maize, or in CMS Petunia.