Production of actinorhodin, a polyketide antibiotic made by Streptomyces coelicolor A3(2), normally occurs only in stationary-phase cultures. S1 nuclease protection experiments showed that transcription of actII-ORF4, the activator gene required for expression of the biosynthetic structural genes, increased dramatically during the transition from exponential to stationary phase. The increase in actII-ORF4 expression was followed by transcription of the biosynthetic structural genes actIII and actVI-ORF1, and by the production of actinorhodin. The presence of actII-ORF4 on a multicopy plasmid resulted in enhanced levels of actII-ORF4 mRNA, and transcription of actIII and actinorhodin production during exponential growth, suggesting that actinorhodin synthesis in rapidly growing cultures is normally limited only by the availability of enough of the activator protein. bldA, which encodes a tRNA(Leu)UUA that is required for the efficient translation of a single UUA codon in the actII-ORF4 mRNA, was transcribed throughout growth. Moreover, translational fusions of the 5' end of actII-ORF4 that included the UUA codon to the ermE reporter gene demonstrated the presence of functional bldA tRNA in young, exponentially growing cultures and no increase in the efficiency of translation of UUA codons, relative to UUG codons, was observed during growth. The normal growth-phase-dependent production of actinorhodin in the liquid culture conditions used in these experiments appears to be mediated at the transcriptional level through activation of the actII-ORF4 promoter.