Synthetic oligonucleotides corresponding to conserved regions of cysteine proteinases were used as primers in the RT-PCR amplification of a fragment of cDNA corresponding to a region of a cysteine proteinase gene expressed during germination of chickpea (cac for Cicer arietinum cysteine proteinase). The identity of the PCR-amplified fragment was confirmed by sequencing and the fragment used as a probe to investigate the pattern of cac gene expression during germination and its hormonal regulation. The corresponding transcript is undetected in the seed during embryogenesis and before imbibition, being detected 24 h after imbibition. Ablation of the embryonic axis before imbibition results in a dramatic decrease in the amount of transcript detected. Expression of the cac transcript in excised cotyledons is restored in the presence of aqueous extracts from embryonic axes and also by incubating the excised cotyledons in 1 mM ethephon. Experiments with various known inhibitors of ethylene action indicate that ethylene activates the expression of cac gene in the cotyledons of chickpea during normal germination.