We have identified and characterized fragments of 15 salicylic acid (SA) early response genes. The kinetics of induction and response to cycloheximide (CHX) treatment allowed classification of genes into four groups. Classes I-III are characterized by immediate-early responses, showing increased accumulation of mRNA within 30 min of SA treatment. Moreover, CHX did not block induction of these genes, indicating that latent cellular factors mediate the SA response. Class IV genes were induced more slowly, but still within 2 to 3 h of SA treatment, and required protein synthesis for expression. Although identified in this study as SA-responsive genes, several could also be induced by other compounds. Two genes were characterized in more detail, including isolation of cDNA sequences and additional analysis of gene expression. Sequence analysis revealed that the class I gene, C18-1, is the previously identified ethylene response element binding protein 1 (EREBP1), an ethylene-induced transcription factor for basic pathogenesis-related (PR) genes, whereas the class III gene, G8-1, is a novel sequence. G8-1 was found to be strongly induced only by SA and its active analogs and was exquisitely sensitive to low SA concentrations. These and other genes were found to be activated at early times following tobacco mosaic virus infection of resistant tobacco genotypes.