The role of chalcone synthase in the regulation of flavonoid biosynthesis during organogenesis of oat primary leaves has been investigated at the level of enzyme activity and mRNA translation in vitro. Chalcone synthase was purified about 500-fold. The apparent Km values were 1.5 and 6.3 microM for 4-coumaroyl-CoA and malonyl-CoA, respectively. The end products of oat flavonoid biosynthesis, three C-glucosylflavones, did not inhibit the reaction at concentrations as measured up to 60 microM each. Apigenin (4',5,7-trihydroxyflavone), a stable structural analog of the reaction product, 2',4,4',6'-tetrahydroxychalcone, was found to be a strong competitive inhibitor of 4-coumaroyl-CoA binding and a strong noncompetitive inhibitor of malonyl-CoA binding. Although apigenin is not supposed to be an intermediate of C-glucosylflavone biosynthesis, this compound might be a valuable tool for future kinetic studies. To date, there is no indication of chalcone synthase regulation by feedback or similar mechanisms which modulate enzyme activity. Mathematical correlation of chalcone synthase activity and flavonoid accumulation during leaf development, however, indicates that chalcone synthase is the rate-limiting enzyme of the pathway. By in vitro translation studies using preparations of total RNA from different leaf stages, we could demonstrate for the first time that the translational activity of chalcone synthase mRNA undergoes marked daily changes. The high values found at the end of the dark phase suggest that light does not exert direct influence on flavonoid biosynthesis but probably functions by controlling the basic diurnal rhythm.