Chloroplast and etioplast in vitro transcription systems from mustard have different functional properties, which is reflected in differences in phosphorylation status. Here we report another transcription control mechanism, which involves two plastid DNA-dependent RNA polymerases designated as peak A and peak B enzymes. Both are large multi-subunit complexes, but differ in their native molecular mass (> 700 kDa for peak A and ca. 420 kDa for peak B) and in their polypeptide composition. The A enzyme is composed of at least 13 polypeptides, while the B enzyme contains only four putative subunits. Peak B activity is inhibited by rifampicin, whereas that of peak A is resistant. RNA polymerase activity was compared for plastids from cotyledons of 4-day-old seedlings that were grown either under continuous light (chloroplasts) or in darkness (etioplasts), or were first dark-grown and then transferred to light for 16 h ('intermediate-type' plastids). While the total activity was approximately the same in all three cases, enzyme B was the predominant activity obtained from etioplasts and enzyme A that obtained from chloroplasts. Both had equal activity in preparations from the 'intermediate-type' plastid form. Both activation/inactivation and differential gene expression seem to play a role in the regulation of the plastid transcription machinery.