The isolation and characterization of cDNA and genomic clones encoding a proteinase inhibitor protein (MPI) in maize is reported. Accumulation of the MPI mRNA is induced in response to fungal infection in germinating maize embryos. The expression pattern of the MPI gene, in healthy and fungal infected maize tissues, was examined and compared with the expression pattern of a gene that codes for a pathogenesis-related protein (the PRms protein) from maize. These two genes are induced by fungal infection, however different signals trigger their activation. Accumulation of the proteinase inhibitor mRNA is more a consequence of the wound produced by the penetration and colonization of the host tissues by the pathogen, than the result of a direct molecular recognition of the pathogen by the plant, as is the case for the induction of the PRms gene. Wounding, or treatment with abscisic acid or methyl jasmonate, stimulate MPI mRNA accumulation, but not PRms mRNA accumulation. Local and systemic induction of the MPI gene expression in response to wounding occurs in maize plants. To the authors' knowledge, this is the first example of a gene from a monocotyledonous species that clearly shows a systemic wound response. The possible functional implications for the existence of different signal transduction pathways that simultaneously activate a battery of defense mechanisms against potential pathogens are discussed.