The R gene family determines the timing, distribution and amount of anthocyanin pigmentation in maize. This family comprises a set of regulatory genes, consisting of a cluster of several elements at the R locus, on chromosome 10, the Lc and Sn gene lying about two units R distal and B on chromosome 2. Each gene determines a tissue-specific pigmentation of different parts of the seed and plant. The proposed duplicated function of R, Sn, Lc and B loci is reflected in cDNA sequence similarity. In this paper an extensive analysis of the predicted proteins of the R, Sn, Lc and B genes together with a search for putative sites of post-translational modification is reported. A comparison with the prosite database discloses several N-glycosylation and phosphorylation sites, as well as the basic Helix-Loop-Helix (HLH) domain of transcriptional activators. Sn, Lc, and R-S show a high conservation of these sites, while B is more divergent. Analysis of the 5' leader of mRNA sequences discloses the presence of five ATG triplets with two upstream open reading frames (uORFs) of 38 and 15 amino acids and a loop structure indicating a possible mechanism of control at the translational level. It is conceivable that possible mechanisms acting at the translational and post-translational level could modulate the expression and the activation of these transcription factors. Northern analysis of various tissues of different R alleles highlights a strict correlation between pigment accumulation in different tissues and the expression of the regulatory and structural genes suggesting that the pattern of pigmentation relies on a mechanism of differential expression of the members of the R family. Analysis of the Sn promoter discloses the presence of several sequences resembling binding sites of known transcription factors (as GAGA and GT) that might be responsible for the spatial and light-induced expression of this gene. Two regions include a short sequence homologous to the consensus binding site of the B-HLH domain suggesting a self-regulatory control of the Sn gene.