A cDNA encoding a high-affinity sulphate transporter has been isolated from barley by complementation of a yeast mutant. The cDNA, designated HVST1, encodes a polypeptide of 660 amino acids (M(r) = 72,550), which is predicted to have 12 membrane-spanning domains and has extensive sequence homology with other identified eukaryotic sulphate transporters. The K(m) for sulphate was 6.9 microM when the HVST1 cDNA was expressed in a yeast mutant deficient in the gene encoding for the yeast SUL1 sulphate transporter. The strong pH-dependency of sulphate uptake when HVST1 was expressed heterologously in yeast suggests that the HVST1 polypeptide is a proton/sulphate co-transporter. The gene encoding HVST1 is expressed specifically in root tissues and the abundance of the mRNA is strongly influenced by sulphur nutrition. During sulphur-starvation of barley, the abundance of mRNA corresponding to HVST1, and the capacity of the roots to take up sulphate, both increase. Upon re-supply of sulphate, the abundance of the mRNA corresponding to HVST1, and the capacity of the roots to take up sulphate, decrease rapidly, concomitant with rises in tissue sulphate, cysteine and glutathione contents. Addition of the cysteine precursor, O-acetylserine, to plants grown with adequate sulphur supply, leads to increases in sulphate transporter mRNA, sulphate uptake rates and tissue contents of glutathione and cysteine. It is suggested, that whilst sulphate, cysteine and glutathione may be candidates for negative metabolic regulators of sulphate transporter gene expression, this regulation may be overridden by O-acetylserine acting as a positive regulator.