To elucidate the rote of glutamine synthetase (GS) in nitrogen assimilation in the green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii we used maize GS1 (the cytosolic form) and GS2 (the chloroplastic form) cDNAs as hybridization probes to isolate C. reinhardtii cDNA clones. The amino acid sequences derived from the C. reinhardtii clones have extensive homology with GS enzymes from higher plants. A putative amino-terminal transit peptide encoded by the GS2 cDNA suggests that the protein localizes to the chloroplast. Genomic DNA blot analysis indicated that GS1 is encoded by a single gene, whereas two genomic fragments hybridized to the GS2 cDNA probe. All GS2 cDNA clones corresponded to only one of the two GS2 genomic sequences. We provide evidence that ammonium, nitrate, and light regulate GS transcript accumulation in green algae. Our results indicate that the level of GS1 transcripts is repressed by ammonium but induced by nitrate. The lever of GS2 transcripts is not affected by ammonium or nitrate. Expression of both GS1 and GS2 genes is regulated by light, but perhaps through different mechanisms. Unlike in higher plants, no decreased level of GS2 transcripts was detected when celts were grown under conditions that repress photorespiration. Analysis of GS transcript levels in mutants with defects in the nitrate assimilation pathway show that nitrate assimilation and ammonium assimilation are regulated independently.