The interrelationship among water-stress-induced abscisic acid (ABA) accumulation, the generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS), and the activities of several antioxidant enzymes such as superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase (CAT), ascorbate peroxidase (APX), and glutathione reductase (GR) was investigated in leaves of detached maize (Zea mays L.) plants exposed to -0.7 MPa water stress induced by polyethylene glycol (PEG 6000). Time-course analyses of ABA content, the production of ROS, and the activities of antioxidant enzymes in water-stressed leaves showed that a significant increase in the content of ABA preceded that of ROS, which was followed by a marked increase in the activities of these antioxidant enzymes. Pretreatment with an ABA biosynthesis inhibitor, tungstate, significantly suppressed the accumulation of ABA, and also reduced the increased generation of ROS and the up-regulation of these antioxidant enzymes in water-stressed leaves. A mild oxidative stress induced by paraquat, which generates O(2)(-) and then H(2)O(2), resulted in a significant enhancement in the activities of antioxidant enzymes in non-water-stressed leaves. Pretreatment with some ROS scavengers, such as Tiron and dimethylthiourea (DMTU), and an inhibitor of NAD(P)H oxidase, diphenyleneiodonium (DPI), almost completely arrested the increase in ROS and the activities of these antioxidant enzymes induced by water stress or ABA treatment. These data suggest that water stress-induced ABA accumulation triggers the increased generation of ROS, which, in turn, leads to the up-regulation of the antioxidant defence system.