The irradiation of harvested fruit is typically accompanied by excessive tissue softening, a process that is not well understood. In this study, we examined the role of specific cell wall polymers and the extent of general cell wall degradation and softening in irradiated tomato fruit. `Sunny' tomato fruit at mature-green and pink stages were subjected to X-ray radiation at 0, 83, and 156 Krad. Immediate softening was noted for both maturation classes, although some postirradiation recovery was evident in green fruit. Pectic polymers of both mature-green and pink fruit exhibited depolymerization and altered neutral sugar profiles in response to irradiation. Pectins, either as components of total ethanol-insoluble solids (EIS), purified by selective extraction, or of commercial origin were similarly affected by irradiation. Cellulose preparations were unaffected by irradiation. The data demonstrate that the effect of irradiation on the cell wall exhibits specificity, can occur nonenzymatically, and does not require initiating adducts of cytosolic origin.