Differential screening of a cDNA library generated from RNA extracted from ethylene-treated leaflet abscission zones of Sambucus nigra resulted in the isolation of 20 abscission-related clones. These clones could be grouped into seven families. Sequencing of members of these families revealed that the majority encoded pathogenesis-related (PR) proteins, and these could be identified by sequence homology as a polyphenol oxidase (PPO), a PR-1 type protein, a Chial type chitinase, a PR-4 type protein similar to the potato win peptides, a PR-6 type proteinase inhibitor, a Chia4 type chitinase and a metallothionein-like protein (Coupe, Taylor & Roberts 1995, Planta 197, 442–447). Northern analysis revealed that these mRNAs were not expressed in freshly excised material but accumulated primarily in the abscission zone tissue after 18 h of exposure to ethylene at a time when abscission of the leaflet explants had reached 70%. Expression of the PPO and the Chia4-type chitinase was ethylene-dependent while that of the PR-4 type was up-regulated in the abscission zone tissue in the absence of the gas. The characterization of these mRNAs and their encoded proteins is presented and their possible roles during abscission are discussed.