The pattern of expression directed by the promoter of the maize caffeic acid O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene was studied by histochemical and fluorometric beta-glucuronidase (GUS) analysis in transgenic maize and tobacco plants. The COMT promoter directs GUS expression to the xylem and the other tissues undergoing lignification, and it responds to wounding and to elicitors. In transgenic maize plants, expression of GUS corresponds to the pattern of expression of the endogenous COMT gene as determined by northern analysis and in situ hybridization. The pattern in transgenic tobacco plants clearly shows that the maize promoter sequence is recognized by tobacco transcriptional factors, in spite of the anatomical differences and the evolutionary distance between these two species. The results suggest that the most significant promoter signals that induce the specific expression of the lignin COMT are conserved in different species.