Sulfate-assimilating organisms reduce inorganic sulfate for Cys biosynthesis. There are two leading hypotheses for the mechanism of sulfate reduction in higher plants. In one, adenosine 5'-phosphosulfate (APS) (5'-adenylysulfate) sulfotransferase carries out reductive transfer of sulfate from APS to reduced glutathione. Alternatively, the mechanism may be similar to that in bacteria in which the enzyme, 3'-phosphoadenosine-5'-phosphosulfate (PAPS) reductase, catalyzes thioredoxin (Trx)-dependent reduction of PAPS. Three classes of cDNA were cloned from Arabidopsis thaliana termed APR1, -2, and -3, that functionally complement a cysH, PAPS reductase mutant strain of Escherichia coli. The coding sequence of the APR clones is homologous with PAPS reductases from microorganisms. In addition, a carboxyl-terminal domain is homologous with members of the Trx superfamily. Further genetic analysis showed that the APR clones can functionally complement a mutant strain of E. coli lacking Trx, and an APS kinase, cysC. mutant. These results suggest that the APR enzyme may be a Trx-independent APS reductase. Cell extracts of E. coli expressing APR showed Trx-independent sulfonucleotide reductase activity with a preference for APS over PAPS as a substrate. APR-mediated APS reduction is dependent on dithiothreitol, has a pH optimum of 8.5, is stimulated by high ionic strength, and is sensitive to inactivation by 5'-adenosinemonophosphate (5'-AMP). 2'-AMP, or 3'-phosphoadenosine-5'-phosphate (PAP), a competitive inhibitor of PAPS reductase, do not affect activity. The APR enzymes may be localized in different cellular compartments as evidenced by the presence of an amino-terminal transit peptide for plastid localization in APR1 and APR3 but not APR2. Southern blot analysis confirmed that the APR clones are members of a small gene family, possibly consisting of three members.