Reduction of turgor in pea shoots caused the accumulation of several poly(A) RNAs. cDNA clones derived from three different poly(A) RNAs which accumulate in wilted pea shoots were isolated, sequenced and expression of the corresponding genes examined. Clone 7a encoded a 289 amino acid protein. The C-terminal 180 amino acids of this protein were homologous to soybean nodulin-26. RNA hybridizing to cDNA 7a was abundant in roots, and induced in shoots by dehydration, heat shock and to a small extent by ABA. Hydropathic plots indicate that the protein encoded by cDNA 7a contains six potential membrane spanning domains similar to proteins which form ion channels. Clone 15a encoded a 363 amino acid protein with high homology to cysteine proteases. RNA hybridizing to cDNA 15a was more abundant in roots than shoots of control plants. Dehydration of pea shoots induced cDNA 15a mRNA levels whereas heat shock or ABA treatment did not. Clone 26g encoded a 508 amino acid protein with 30% residue identity to several aldehyde dehydrogenases. RNA hybridizing to cDNA 26g was induced by dehydration of shoots but not roots and heat shock and ABA did not modulate RNA levels. Levels of the three poly(A) RNAs increased 4-6-fold by 4 h after wilting and this increase was not altered by pretreatment of shoots with cycloheximide. When wilted shoots were rehydrated, RNA hybridizing to cDNA 26g declined to pre-stress levels within 2 h. Run-on transcription experiments using nuclei from pea shoots showed that transcription of the genes which encode the three poly(A) RNAs was induced within 30 min following reduction of shoot turgor. One of the genes showed a further increase in transcription by 4 h after dehydration whereas transcription of the other 2 genes declined. These results indicate that plant cells respond to changes in cell turgor by rapidly increasing transcription of several genes. Furthermore, the expression of the turgor-responsive genes varies with respect to the time course of induction and reversibility of the wilting-induced changes.