Sulfotransferases (SOTs) catalyse the transfer of a sulfate group from 3'-phosphoadenosine 5'-phosphosulfate (PAPS) to an appropriate hydroxy group of various substrates with the parallel formation of 3'-phosphoadenosine 5'-phosphate. In Arabidopsis thaliana, 18 SOT proteins (AtSOT) have been identified. Three of them, AtSOT16, AtSOT17 and AtSOT18, catalyse the sulfation of desulfoglucosinolates. The proteins were expressed in Escherichia coli, purified by affinity chromatography and used for enzyme kinetic studies. By establishing two types of enzyme assay using both 35S-labelled and unlabelled PAPS, separation of the products by HPLC, and detection of the products by monitoring radioactivity or UV absorption, the substrate specificities of the three AtSOT proteins were determined. They show different maximum velocities with several desulfoglucosinolates as substrates and differ in their affinity for desulfobenzylglucosinolate and PAPS. The sequences encoding AtSOT18 were amplified from Arabidopsis ecotypes C24 and Col0; the two expressed proteins differ in two out of 350 amino acids. These amino-acid variations led to different substrate specificities. Exchange of one of the two amino acids in AtSOT18 from C24 to the respective amino acid in AtSOT18 from Col0 gave the C24 protein the same substrate specificity as the wild-type AtSOT18 protein from Col0. All three desulfoglucosinolate AtSOT proteins are localized in the cytoplasm, as demonstrated by transient expression of fusion constructs with the green fluorescent protein in Arabidopsis protoplasts. Northern blot analysis indicated differential expression of the three AtSOT genes in plant organs and tissues at different developmental stages and during a light/darkness cycle. High (500 microM) and low (50 microM) sulfate concentrations in the medium did not influence the levels of expression.