An Arabidopsis cDNA clone encoding 4-coumarate:CoA ligase (4CL), a key enzyme of phenylpropanoid metabolism, was identified and sequenced. The predicted amino acid sequence is similar to those of other cloned 4CL genes. Southern blot analysis indicated that 4CL is single-copy gene in Arabidopsis. Northern blots showed that 4CL expression was activated early during seedling development. The onset of 4CL expression was correlated with the onset of lignin deposition in cotyledons and roots 2-3 days after germination. The timing of the expression of a parsley 4CL1-GUS fusion in transgenic Arabidopsis seedlings was examined in parallel and was very similar to that of endogenous 4CL. In mature plants, highest 4CL expression was observed in bolting stems, where relatively large amounts of lignin accumulate. Both 4CL and 4CL1-GUS mRNA accumulation was strongly and transiently activated by wounding of mature Arabidopsis leaves. 4CL expression was specifically activated within 6 h after infiltration of Arabidopsis ecotype Columbia leaves with a Pseudomonas syringae pv. maculicola strain harboring the bacterial avirulence gene avrB, which causes in incompatible interaction. The timing of 4CL activation was identical to the previously observed activation of PAL gene expression in this interaction. No activation of 4CL expression was observed in a compatible interaction caused by a Pseudomonas syringae pv. maculicola strain without avrB.