Watermelon fruit exhibit acute softening and placental-tissue water soaking following short exposure to exogenous ethylene. Experiments were performed to address transcript abundance and activities of cell wall and membrane hydrolases in placental tissue in response to treatment of watermelon fruit with ethylene. Watermelon fruit were harvested at immature and full-ripe stages and exposed to 50 muLL(-1) ethylene for 6 days at 20degreesC. Ethylene affected the abundance of transcripts for PME (EC 188.8.131.52), and alpha-(EC 184.108.40.206) and beta-GAL (EC 220.127.116.11) but these effects were dependent on fruit maturity and appeared not to be associated with the water-soaking syndrome. PG (EC 18.104.22.168) and EXP mRNAs accumulated significantly in response to ethylene exposure. Additionally, the levels of mRNA and activities of LOX (EC 22.214.171.124), PLC (EC 126.96.36.199) and PLD (EC 188.8.131.52) were elevated in fruit of both maturity classes exposed to ethylene and were temporally associated with the visible symptoms of water soaking. The activity trends and transcript abundance in ethylene-compared with air-treated fruit indicate that PG, EXP, LOX, PLC and PLD levels increase with the onset and development of the water-soaking disorder and support the view that catabolic reactions targeting the membranes and cell-walls contribute to the disorder.