In Mesembryanthemum crystallinum, the salt stress-induced metabolic switch from C3 photosynthesis to Crassulacean acid metabolism is accompanied by major changes in gene expression. However, early effects of salt exposure (i.e. prior to Crassulacean acid metabolism induction) on genes coding for vacuolar transport functions have not yet been studied. Therefore, the expression of vacuolar H(+)-ATPase genes was analyzed in different organs of 4-week-old plants stressed with 400 mM NaCl for 3, 8, or 24 h. Partial cDNAs for the subunits A, B, and c were cloned and used as homologous probes for northern blot analysis. In control plants, the mRNA levels for the different subunits showed organ-specific differences. In fully expanded leaves, subunit c mRNA was very low but increased transiently during the light period. Plant organs also differed in their salt-stress response. In roots and young leaves, mRNA levels for all three subunits increased about 2-fold compared to control plants, whereas in fully expanded leaves only subunit c mRNA responded to salt. The results indicate that the expression of vacuolar H(+)-ATPase genes does not always involve a fixed stoichiometry of mRNAs for the different subunits and that the mRNA level for subunit c is particularly sensitive to developmental and environmental changes.