Lipid modifying enzymes play a key role in the development of cold stress tolerance in cold-resistant plants such as cereals. However, little is known about the role of the endogenous enzymes in cold-sensitive species such as cotton. Delta 12 fatty acid desaturases (FAD2), known to participate in adaptation to low temperatures through acyl chain modifications were used in gene expression studies in order to identify parameters of plant response to low temperatures. The induction of microsomal delta 12 fatty acid desaturases at an mRNA level under cold stress in plants is shown here for first time. Quantitative PCR showed that though both delta 12 omega 6 fatty acid desaturase genes FAD2-3 and FAD2-4 identified in cotton are induced under cold stress, FAD2-4 induction is significantly higher than FAD2-3. The induction of both isoforms was light regulated, in contrast a third isoform FAD2-2 was not affected by cold or light. Stress tolerance and light regulatory elements were identified in the predicted promoters of both FAD2-3 and FAD2-4 genes. Di-unsaturated fatty acid species rapidly increased in the microsomal fraction isolated from cotton leaves, following cold stress. Expression analysis patterns were correlated with the observed increase in both total and microsomal fatty acid unsaturation levels suggesting the direct role of the FAD2 genes in membrane adaptation to cold stress.