We have isolated two Rare Cold-Inducible (RCI1 and RCI2) cDNAs by screening a cDNA library prepared from cold-acclimated etiolated seedlings of Arabidopsis thaliana with a subtracted probe. RNA-blot hybridizations revealed that the expression of both RCI1 and RCI2 genes is induced by low temperature independently of the plant organ or the developmental stage considered. However, RCI1 mRNA accumulates faster and at higher levels than the RCI2 one indicating that these genes have differential responsiveness to cold stress. Additionally, when plants are returned to room temperature, RCI1 mRNA decreases faster than RCI2. In contrast to most of the cold-inducible plant genes characterized, the expression of RCI1 and RCI2 is not induced by ABA or water stress. The nucleotide sequences of RCI1 and RCI2 cDNAs predict two acidic polypeptides of 255 and 251 amino acids with molecular weights of 29 and 28 kDa respectively. The alignment of these polypeptides indicates that they have 181 identical amino acids suggesting that the corresponding genes have a common origin. Sequence comparisons reveal no similarities between the RCI proteins and any other cold-regulated plant protein so far described. Instead, they demonstrate that the RCI proteins are highly homologous to a family of proteins, known as 14-3-3 proteins, which are thought to be involved in the regulation of multifunctional protein kinases.