The molecular regulation of seed dormancy was investigated using differential display to visualize and isolate cDNAs representing differentially expressed genes during early imbibition of dormant and nondormant Avena fatua L. embryos. Of about 3000 cDNA bands examined, 5 cDNAs hybridized with mRNAs exhibiting dormancy-associated expression patterns during the first 48 h of inhibition, while many more nondormancy-associated cDNAs were observed. Dormancy-associated clone AFD1 hybridized with a 1.5 kb mRNA barely detectable in dry dormant and nondormant embryos that became more abundant in dormant embryos after 24 h of imbibition. Clone AFD2 hybridized with two mRNAs, a 1.3 kb message constitutively expressed in dormant and nondormant embryos and a 0.9 kb message present at higher levels in dormant embryos after 3 h of imbibition. Nondormancy-associated clones AFN1, AFN2 and AFN3 hybridized with 1.5 kb, 1.7 kb and 1.1 kb mRNAs, respectively, that were more abundant in nondormant embryos during imbibition. Expression patterns of some mRNAs in dormant embryos induced to germinate by GA3 treatment were different than water controls, but were not identical to those observed in nondormant embryos. DNA sequence analysis revealed 76% sequence identity between clone AFN3 and a Citrus sinensis glutathione peroxidase-like cDNA, while significant sequence similarities with known genes were not found for other clones. Southern hybridization analyses showed that all clones represent low (1 to 4) copy number genes.