We have investigated the effects of protein synthesis inhibitors on light-induced expression of two plant nuclear genes, Cab and rbcS, in wheat, pea and transgenic tobacco. Light activation of these two genes is very sensitive to cycloheximide, an inhibitor of cytoplasmic protein synthesis but not to chloramphenicol, an inhibitor of organellar protein synthesis. Studies with chimeric gene constructs in transgenic tobacco seedlings show that cycloheximide exerts its effect at the transcriptional level. As a control, we show that the expression of the cauliflower mosaic virus (CaMV) 35S promoter is enhanced by cycloheximide treatment, irrespective of the coding sequence used. Escape-time analyses with green wheat seedlings show that the cycloheximide block for Cab gene expression is after the primary signal transduction step linked to phytochrome photoconversion. Our results suggest that phytochrome activation of Cab and rbcS is mediated by a labile protein factor(s) synthesized on cytoplasmic ribosomes.