As a first step in understanding the differential expression of the plastid-encoded photosystem II (PSII) genes in mesophyll and bundle-sheath cells, we have used RNA blotting techniques to investigate the transcript patterns of these genes in three NADP-malic enzymetype C4 species: Zea mays L., Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench and Pennisetum americanum (L.) Leeke. Our comparison showed that in all three species the relative levels of transcripts encoding PSII proteins were diminished in bundle-sheath cells. No major differences, either in abundance or in the processing pathways, could be detected for transcripts encoding subunits of the PSI and ATP-synthase complexes. The transcript profiles of the psbB and psbD/C transcription units were particularly striking. These operons were of heterogeneous composition, i.e. they encode PSII subunits as well as proteins or RNAs which are involved in different functional entities. The transcript patterns of the psbB and psbD/C transcription units were complex and characterized by multiple, partially overlapping RNAs. Our analysis showed that the relative levels of the oligocistronic PSII transcripts derived from these transcription units with the exception of psbH were selectively reduced in bundlesheath cells. In contrast, RNAs carrying the non-PSII components were present in similar quantities in the two cell types. The data demonstrate that segmental RNAs within one single transcription unit can accumulate to different degrees. Regulatory mechanisms which may explain this expression behaviour are discussed.