The plant growth substance (-)-jasmonic acid methyl ester (methyl jasmonate, JaMe) affects plastid gene expression at the protein and mRNA levels when applied exogenously to detached leaf segments of Hordeum vulgare L. cv. Salome. Translation of the large subunits of ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase (LSU, rbcL gene products) and of the 65 and 68 kDa proteins of photosystem I (psaA and psaB gene products, respectively) ceased, whereas synthesis of the 32 kDa photosystem II protein (D1, psbA gene product) continued in JaMe-treated leaf tissues. These changes were not caused by corresponding alterations in transcript abundances. The loss of LSU protein synthesis, occurring within 24 h of JaMe treatment, correlated with a decline in the in vitro-translatable rbcL mRNA, but contrasted with an almost constant transcript level. The 5' ends of the rbcL transcripts shifted from '-59' in freshly harvested or water-treated leaves to '-94' in JaMe-treated leaf tissues. Transcripts ending at these positions presumably arise from alternative processing of the primary transcript ending at position '-316'. The '-94' transcript contains, within the 5' untranslated region, a 35-base motif with remarkable complementarity to the extreme 3' terminal part of the 16S rRNA, involved in intramolecular base pairing within the ribosome and can associate with 30S but not 70S complexes in organello, suggesting that intermolecular base pairing impairs translation initiation, probably by competing for ribosome binding at the Shine-Dalgarno sequence. In contrast, transcripts ending at '-59' lack the 5' terminal 'extra' sequence and are active in terms of translation initiation.