The level of nitrate reductase (NR) and nitrite reductase (NiR) varied in both shoot and root tissue from nitrate-fed Zea mays L. grown under a 16-hour light/8-hour dark regime over a 10-day period postgermination, with peak activity occurring in days 5 to 6. To study the effect of different light regimes on NR and NiR enzyme activity and mRNA levels, 6-day-old plants were grown in the presence of continuous KNO3 (10 millimolar). Both shoot NRA and mRNA varied considerably, peaking 4 to 8 hours into the light period. Upon transferring plants to continuous light, the amplitude of the peaks increased, and the peaks moved closer together. In continuous darkness, no NR mRNA or NR enzyme activity could be detected by 8 hours and 12 hours, respectively. In either a light/dark or continuous light regime, root NRA and mRNA did not vary substantially. However, when plants were placed in continuous darkness, both declined steadily in the roots, although some remained after 48 hours. Although there was no obvious cycling of NiR enzyme activity in shoot tissue, changes in mRNA mimicked those seen for NR mRNA. The expression of NR and NiR genes is affected by the light regime adopted, but light does not have a direct effect on the expression of these genes.