UDPGDH (UDP-D-glucose dehydrogenase) oxidizes UDP-Glc (UDP-D-glucose) to UDP-GlcA (UDP-D-glucuronate), the precursor of UDP-D-xylose and UDP-L-arabinose, major cell wall polysaccharide precursors. Maize (Zea mays L.) has at least two putative UDPGDH genes (A and B), according to sequence similarity to a soya bean UDPGDH gene. The predicted maize amino acid sequences have 95% similarity to that of soya bean. Maize mutants with a Mu-element insertion in UDPGDH-A or UDPGDH-B were isolated (udpgdh-AI and udpgdh-B1 respectively) and studied for changes in wall polysaccharide biosynthesis. The udpgdh-AI and udpgdh-B1 homozygotes showed no visible phenotype but exhibited 90 and 60-70% less UDPGDH activity respectively than wild-types in a radiochemical assay with 30 mu M UDP-glucose. Ethanol dehydrogenase (ADH) activity varied independently of UDPGDH activity, supporting the hypothesis that ADH and UDPGDH activities are due to different enzymes in maize. When extracts from wild-types and udpgdh-AI homozygotes were assayed with increasing concentrations of UDP-Glc, at least two isoforms of UDPGDH were detected, having K. values of approx. 380 and 950 mu M for UDP-Glc. Leaf and stem non-cellulosic polysaccharides had lower Ara/Gal and Xyl/Gal ratios in udpgdh-AI homozygotes than in wild-types, whereas udpgdh-B1 homozygotes exhibited more variability among individual plants, suggesting that UDPGDH-A activity has a more important role than UDPGDH-B in UDP-GlcA synthesis. The fact that mutation of a UDPGDH gene interferes with polysaccharide synthesis suggests a greater importance for the sugar nucleotide oxidation pathway than for the myo-inositol pathway in UDP-GlcA biosynthesis during post-germinative growth of maize.