To determine the relationship between invertase gene expression and glucose and fructose accumulation in ripening tomato fruit, fruit vacuolar invertase cDNA and genomic clones from the cultivated species, Lycopersicon esculentum cv. UC82B, and a wild species, Lycopersicon pimpinellifolium, were isolated and characterized. The coding sequences of all cDNA clones examined are identical. By comparison to the known amino acid sequence of mature L. esculentum fruit vacuolar invertase, a putative signal sequence and putative amino-terminal and carboxy-terminal propeptides were identified in the derived amino acid sequence. Of the residues 42% are identical with those of carrot cell wall invertase. A putative catalytic site and a five-residue motif found in carrot, yeast, and bacterial invertases are also present in the tomato sequence. Minor differences between the nucleotide sequences of the genomic clones from the two tomato species were found in one intron and in the putative regulatory region. The gene appears to be present in one copy per haploid genome. Northern analysis suggests a different temporal pattern of vacuolar invertase mRNA levels during fruit development in the two species, with the invertase mRNA appearing at an earlier stage of fruit development in the wild species. Nucleotide differences found in the putative regulatory regions may be involved in species differences in temporal regulation of this gene, which in turn may contribute to observed differences in hexose accumulation in ripening fruit.