S-Adenosyl-l-methionine:caffeic acid 3-O-methyltransferase (COMT, EC 126.96.36.199) catalyzes the conversion of caffeic acid to ferulic acid, a key step in the biosynthesis of lignin monomers. We have isolated a functionally active cDNA clone (pCOMT1) encoding alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) COMT by immunoscreening a lambdaZAPII cDNA expression library with anti-(aspen COMT) antibodies. The derived amino acid sequence of pCOMT1 is 86% identical to that of COMT from aspen. Southern blot analysis indicates that COMT in alfalfa is encoded by at least two genes. Addition of an elicitor preparation from bakers' yeast to alfalfa cell suspension cultures resulted in a rapid accumulation of COMT transcripts, which reached a maximum level around 19 hours postelicitation. Northern blot analysis of total RNA from different organs of alfalfa plants at various developmental stages showed that COMT transcripts are most abundant in roots and stems. Transcripts encoding ATP: i-methionine-S-adenosyl transferase (AdoMet synthetase, EC 188.8.131.52), the enzyme responsible for the synthesis of the methyl donor for the COMT reaction, were coinduced with COMT transcripts in elicitor-treated cells and exhibited a similar pattern of expression to that of COMT in different organs of alfalfa plants at various stages of development.