• anti-oxidative defense;
  • maize (Zea mays);
  • nitric oxide;
  • nitric oxide synthase;
  • signal transduction;
  • water stress


Nitric oxide (NO) has been known as an important signal in plant antioxidative defense but its production and roles in water stress are less known. The present study investigated whether NO dependence on a NO synthase-like (NOS) activity is involved in the signaling of drought-induced protective responses in maize seedlings.NOS activity, rate of NO release and drought responses were analyzed when NO donor sodium nitroprusside (SNP), NO scavenger c-PTIO (2-(4-carboxyphenyl)-4,4,5,5-tetramethylimidazoline-1-oxyl-3-oxide) and NOS inhibitor L-NAME (NG-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester) were applied to both detached maize leaves and whole plants. Both NOS activity and the rate of NO release increased substantially under dehydration stress. The high NOS activity induced by c-PTIO as NO scavenger and NO accumulation inhibited by NOS inhibitor L-NAME in dehydration-treated maize seedlings indicated that most NO production under water deficit stress may be generated from NOS-like activity. After dehydration stress for 3 h, detached maize leaves pretreated with NO donor SNP maintained more water content than that of control leaves pretreated with water. This result was consistent with the decrease in the transpiration rate of SNP-treated leaves subjected to drought treatment for 3 h. Membrane permeability, a cell injury index, was lower in SNP-treated maize leaves under dehydration stress for 4 h when compared with the control leaves. Also, superoxide dismutase (SOD) activity of SNP combined drought treatment maize leaves was higher than that of drought treatment alone, indicating that exogenous NO treatment alleviated the water loss and oxidative damage of maize leaves under water deficit stress. When c-PTIO as a specific NO scavenger was applied, the effects of applied SNP were overridden. Treatment with L-NAME on leaves also led to higher membrane permeability, higher transpiration rate and lower SOD activities than those of control leaves, indicating that NOS-like activity was involved in the antioxidative defense under water stress. These results suggested that NO dependence on NOS-like activity serves as a signaling component in the induction of protective responses and is associated with drought tolerance in maize seedlings.