Two cultivars of Perilla frutescens, red and green formas are known to differ in anthocyanin accumulation in leaves and stems. cDNA clones encoding the enzymes involved in anthocyanin biosynthesis, chalcone synthase (CHS), flavanone 3-hydroxylase (F3H), dihydroflavonol 4-reductase (DFR), and UDP glucose: flavonoid 3-O-glucosyltransferase (3GT), were isolated from cDNA libraries derived from the leaves of a red forma of P. frutescens by screening with partial fragments amplified by means of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and heterologous cDNAs as probes. The deduced amino acid sequences of these four genes exhibited 40-90% identity with those reported for the corresponding gene from other unrelated species. Southern blot analysis for these genes and two other structural genes, the leucoanthocyanidin dioxygenase (LDOX, anthocyanidin synthase) and anthocyanin acyltransferase (AAT) genes, indicated that each gene comprises a small multi-gene family. More than three copies of the CHS gene are present, two copies of the other genes being present. The expression of five genes, the exception being the CHS gene, was detected only in red leaves of the red forma of P. frutescens, i.e. not in green leaves of the green forma plant. The CHS gene was expressed in both red and green leaves, but 10-fold more in red leaves than in green leaves. These results suggest that the expression of all structural genes examined is coordinately regulated in a forma-specific manner. Under weak-light conditions, the accumulation of both anthocyanin and mRNAs of biosynthetic enzymes was lower in leaves of the red forma. High-intensity white light coordinately induced the accumulation of transcripts of all six genes examined in the mature leaves of red P. frutescens.