cDNAs encoding two Bowman-Birk proteinase inhibitors were isolated from the leaves of alfalfa (Medicago sativa). The cDNAs are derived from a small gene family (3 to 10 genes) encoding alfalfa trypsin inhibitors (ATIs). Each cDNA clone encoded a mature ATI that was part of a larger, putative preprotein. ATI mRNAs are continuously expressed in flower parts, but are mechanically wound-inducible in the stems and leaves. ATI mRNA is shown to be continuously present in roots of soil-grown plants, but its presence is primarily in response to microorganisms present in the soil. Additionally, while mechanical wounding of the alfalfa roots induced ATI mRNA synthesis both in the roots and in the leaves, microbial infection of the roots triggered ATI mRNA synthesis in the roots but not in the leaves. These results suggest that both local and systemic signalling pathways for proteinase inhibitor synthesis are present in alfalfa plants.