Superoxide dismutases (SODs) are metalloproteins that catalyse the dismutation of superoxide radicals to oxygen and hydrogen peroxide. The enzyme has been found in all aerobic organisms examined, where it plays a major role in the defence against toxic reduced oxygen species which are generated in many biological oxidations. Here we report the complete primary structure of a plant manganese superoxide dismutase (MnSOD), deduced from a cDNA clone of Nicotiana plumbaginifolia. The plant protein is highly homologous to MnSODs from other organisms and also contains an N-terminal leader sequence resembling a transit peptide for mitochondrial targeting. The location of the mature protein within the mitochondria has been demonstrated by subcellular fractionation experiments. We have analysed the expression profile of this MnSOD and found that it is dramatically induced during stress conditions, most notably in tissue culture as a result of sugar metabolism and also as part of the pathogenesis response of the plant, being induced by ethylene, salicylic acid, and Pseudomonas syringae infection. This induction is always accompanied by an increase in cytochrome oxidase activity, which suggests a specific protective role for MnSOD during conditions of increased mitochondrial respiration.