The senescence of carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus L.) flower petals is regulated by the phytohormone ethylene and is associated with considerable catabolic activity including the loss of protein. In this paper we present the molecular cloning of a cysteine proteinase and show that its expression is regulated by ethylene and associated with petal senescence. A 1600 bp cDNA was amplified by polymerase chain reaction using a 5'-specific primer and 3'-nonspecific primer designed to amplify a 1-aminocyclopropane-1-carboxylate synthase cDNA from reverse-transcribed stylar RNA. The nucleotide sequence of the cloned product (pDCCP1) was found to share significant homology to several cysteine proteinases rather than ACC synthase. A single open reading frame of 428 amino acids was shown to share significant homology with other plant cysteine proteinases including greater than 70% identity with a cysteine proteinase from Arabidopsis thaliana. Amino acids in the active site of cysteine proteinases were conserved in the pDCCP1 peptide. RNA gel blot analysis revealed that the expression of pDCCP1 increased substantially with the onset of ethylene production and senescence of petals. Increased pDCCP1 expression was also associated with ethylene production in other senescing floral organs including ovaries and styles. The pDCCP1 transcript accumulated in petals treated with exogenous ethylene within 3 h and treatment of flowers with 2,5-norbornadiene, an inhibitor of ethylene action, prevented the increase in pDCCP1 expression in petals. The temporal and spatial patterns of pDCCP1 expression suggests a role for cysteine proteinase in the loss of protein during floral senescence.