Changes in gene expression, by application of H2O2, O2.- generating agents (methyl viologen, digitonin) and gamma irradiation to tomato suspension cultures, were investigated and compared to the well-described heat shock response. Two-dimensional gel protein mapping analyses gave the first indication that at least small heat shock proteins (smHSP) accumulated in response to application of H2O2 and gamma irradiation, but not to O2.- generating agents. While some proteins seemed to be induced specifically by each treatment, only part of the heat shock response was observed. On the basis of Northern hybridization experiments performed with four heterologous cDNA, corresponding to classes I-IV of pea smHSP, it could be concluded that significant amounts of class I and II smHSP mRNA are induced by H2O2 and by irradiation. Taken together, these results demonstrate that in plants some HSP genes are inducible by oxidative stresses, as in micro-organisms and other eukaryotic cells. HSP22, the main stress protein that accumulates following H2O2 action or gamma irradiation, was also purified. Sequence homology of amino terminal and internal sequences, and immunoreactivity with Chenopodium rubrum mitochondrial smHSP antibody, indicated that the protein belongs to the recently discovered class of plant mitochondrial smHSP. Heat shock or a mild H2O2 pretreatment was also shown to lead to plant cell protection against oxidative injury. Therefore, the synthesis of these stress proteins can be considered as an adaptive mechanism in which mitochondrial protection could be essential.