Dehydrins (DHNs) are part of a large group of highly hydrophilic proteins known as LEA (Late Embryogenesis Abundant). They were originally identified as group II of the LEA proteins. The distinctive feature of all DHNs is a conserved, lysine-rich 15-amino acid domain, EKKGIMDKIKEKLPG, named the K-segment. It is usually present near the C-terminus. Other typical dehydrin features are: a track of Ser residues (the S-segment); a consensus motif, T/VDEYGNP (the Y-segment), located near the N-terminus; and less conserved regions, usually rich in polar amino acids (the Phi-segments). They do not display a well-defined secondary structure. The number and order of the Y-, S-and K-segments define different DHN sub-classes: Y(n)SK(n), Y(n)Kn, SK(n), K(n) and K(n)S. Dehydrins are distributed in a wide range of organisms including the higher plants, algae, yeast and cyanobacteria. They accumulate late in embryogenesis, and in nearly all the vegetative tissues during normal growth conditions and in response to stress leading to cellular dehydration (e.g. drought, low temperature and salinity). DHNs are localized in different cell compartments, such as the cytosol, nucleus, mitochondria, vacuole, and the vicinity of the plasma membrane; however, they are primarily localized to the cytoplasm and nucleus. The precise function of dehydrins has not been established yet, but in vitro experiments revealed that some DHNs (YSK(n)-type) bind to lipid vesicles that contain acidic phospholipids, and others (K(n)S) were shown to bind metals and have the ability to scavenge hydroxyl radicals [Asghar, R. et al. Protoplasma 177 (1994) 87-94], protect lipid membranes against peroxidation or display cryoprotective activity towards freezing-sensitive enzymes. The SK(n)-and K-type seem to be directly involved in cold acclimation processes. The main question arising from the in vitro findings is whether each DHN structural type could possess a specific function and tissue distribution. Much recent in vitro data clearly indicates that dehydrins belonging to different subclasses exhibit distinct functions.