Endochitinases are widely distributed among higher plants, including a number of important crop species. They are generally considered to be involved in plant defence against potential pathogens. We have cloned a class IV chitinase gene (AtchitIV) from Arabidopsis thaliana. Southern blot analysis allowed the detection of two cross-hybridising genes in the A. thaliana genome. AtchitIV transcripts are detected in seedpods, but not in roots, inflorescence stems, leaves and flowers of healthy plants. The transcripts accumulated very rapidly in leaves after inoculation with Xanthomonas campestris. Maximum mRNA accumulation was reached one hour after infection and decreased to very low levels 72 hours after induction. This result suggests an involvement of AtchitIV in the initial events of the hypersensitive reaction. Nevertheless, A. thaliana plants transformed with the gus gene under the control of a class IV chitinase bean promoter, showed GUS activity in seed embryos. These data, together with the constitutive expression of the endogenous gene in the seedpods, points to additional physiological roles for this protein.