The products of the S-locus expressed in female tissues of Nicotiana alata are ribonucleases (S-RNases). The arrest of growth of incompatible pollen tubes in styles may result from entry of the S-RNase into the pollen tube and degradation of pollen tube RNA. We investigated the action of isolated S-RNases on pollen tubes grown in vitro and found that S-RNase is taken up by the pollen without substantial alteration. The S-RNases inhibit incorporation of exogenously added radioactive amino acids into protein by the germinated pollen. The S-RNases also inhibit in vitro translation of pollen tube RNA in a wheat germ cell-free extract. We found no evidence for a specific mRNA substrate for the S-RNases, which implies that if RNase activity is involved in the control of self-incompatibility, allelic specificity is more likely to depend on the selective uptake of S-RNases into pollen tubes or their selective activation or inactivation by pollen factors, rather than cleavage of a specific substrate. Heat treating S2-RNase largely destroys its RNase activity but increases its inhibitory effect on in vitro pollen tube growth. This effect is not due to an increased uptake of S2-RNase by the pollen but is associated with a greatly enhanced accumulation of S2-RNase on the outer surface of the pollen grains.