A characteristic of the food-borne pathogen Listeria monocytogenes is its tolerance to the harsh conditions found both in minimally processed foods and the human gastrointestinal tract. This trait is partly under the control of the alternative sigma factor sigma B (sigma(B)). To study the mechanisms that trigger the activation of sB, and hence the development of stress tolerance, we have developed a fluorescent reporter fusion that allows the real-time activity of sB to be monitored. The reporter, designated P-lmo2230::egfp, fuses the strong sigma(B)-dependent promoter from the lmo2230 gene (which encodes a putative arsenate reductase) to a gene encoding enhanced green fluorescence protein (EGFP). The reporter was integrated into the genomes of the wild-type strain L. monocytogenes EGD-e as well as two mutant derivatives lacking either sigB or rsbV. The resulting strains were used to study sigma(B) activation in response to growth phase and hyperosmotic stress. The wild-type was strongly fluorescent in stationary phase or in cultures with added NaCl and this fluorescence was abolished in both the sigB and rsbV backgrounds, consistent with the sigma(B)-dependency of the lmo2230 promoter. During sudden osmotic upshock (addition of 0.5 M NaCl during growth) a real-time increase in fluorescence was observed microscopically, reaching maximal activation after 30 min. Flow cytometry was used to study the activation of sigma(B) at a population level by hyperosmotic stress during exponential growth. A strong and proportional increase in fluorescence was observed as the salt concentration increased from 0 to 0.9 M NaCl. Interestingly, there was considerable heterogeneity within the population and a significant proportion of cells failed to induce a high level of fluorescence, suggesting that sB activation occurs stochastically in response to hyperosmotic stress. Thus the Plmo2230::egfp is a powerful tool that will allow the stress response to be better studied in this important human pathogen.