We have identified an Arabidopsis thaliana CDC48 gene which, unlike the putative mammalian homologue vasolin-containing protein (VCP), functionally complements Saccharomyces cerevisiae cdc48 mutants. CDC48 is an essential gene in S. cerevisiae and genetic studies suggest a role in spindle pole body separation. Biochemical studies link VCP function to membrane trafficking and signal transduction. We have described the AtCDC48 expression pattern in a multicellular eukaryote; the zones of cell division, expansion and differentiation are physically separated in higher plants, thus allowing the analysis of in situ expression patterns with respect to the state of cell proliferation. AtCDC48 is highly expressed in the proliferating cells of the vegetative shoot, root, floral inflorescence and flowers, and in rapidly growing cells. AtCDC48 mRNA and the encoded protein are up-regulated in the developing microspores and ovules. AtCDC48 expression is down-regulated in most differentiated cell types. AtCDC48p was primarily localized to the nucleus and, during cytokinesis, to the phragmoplast, a site where membrane vesicles are targeted in the deposition of new cell wall materials. This study shows that the essential cell division function of CDC48 has been conserved by, at least, some multicellular eukaryotes and suggests that in higher plants, CDC48 functions in cell division and growth processes.