Phosphoenolpyruvate carboxylase is regulated by reversible phosphorylation in response to light in C3 and C4 plants and to a circadian oscillator in CAM plants. Increases in phosphoenolpyruvate carboxylase kinase activity require protein synthesis. This requirement has been analysed by quantifying translatable mRNA for this protein kinase using in vitro translation of isolated RNA followed by direct assay of kinase activity. In leaves of the CAM plant Bryophyllum (Kalanchoë) fedtschenkoi, in normal diurnal conditions, kinase mRNA was 20-fold more abundant at night than in the day. In constant environmental conditions (continuous darkness, CO2-free air, 15°C) kinase mRNA exhibited circadian oscillations. The circadian disappearance of kinase mRNA and kinase activity was delayed by lowering the temperature to 4°C and accelerated by raising the temperature to 30°C. The appearance of kinase mRNA and activity was blocked by cordycepin and puromycin. In maize and barley, kinase mRNA increased in response to light. For all three plants, the phosphoenolpyruvate carboxylase kinase activity generated during in vitro translation was Ca2+-independent. These results demonstrate that phosphoenolpyruvate carboxylase kinase activity is regulated at the level of translatable mRNA in C3, C4 and CAM plants.