Maize (Zea mays L.) seedlings of two cultivars (cv. Bastion adapted to W. Europe, and cv. Batan 8686 adapted to the highlands of Mexico), raised in a glasshouse (19-25 degrees C), were transferred to 4.5 or 9 degrees C at photon flux density (PPFD) of 950 mu mol m(-2) s(-1) with 10-h photoperiod for 58 h and then allowed to recover at 22 degrees C for 16 h (14 h dark and 2 h at PPFD of 180 mu mol m(-2) s(-1)). The ultrastructural responses after 4 h or 26 h at 4.5 degrees C were the disappearance of starch grains in the bundle sheath chloroplasts and the contraction of intrathylakoid spaces in stromal thylakoids of the mesophyll chloroplasts. At this time, bundle sheath chloroplasts of cv. Batan 8686 formed peripheral reticulum. Prolonged stress at 4.5 degrees C (50 h) caused plastid swelling and the dilation of intrathylakoid spaces, mainly in mesophyll chloroplasts. Bundle sheath chloroplasts of cv. Batan 8686 seedlings appeared well preserved in shape and structure. Batan 8686 had also higher net photosynthetic rates during chilling and recovery than Bastion. Extended leaf photobleaching developed during the recovery period after chilling at 4.5 degrees C. This was associated with collapsed chloroplast envelopes, disintegrated chloroplasts and very poor staining.