Low phosphorus (P) availability is a major limitation for plant growth. To better understand the molecular mechanism of P efficiency in maize, comparative proteome analyses were performed on the roots of the low-P-tolerant mutant 99038 and wild-type Qi-319 grown under P-sufficient (+P) or P-deficient (-P) conditions. Over 10% of proteins detected on two-dimensional electrophoresis (2-DE) gels showed expression that was altered twofold or more between the genotypes under +P or -P conditions. We identified 73 (+P) and 95 (-P) differentially expressed proteins in response to phosphate (Pi) starvation. These proteins were involved in a large number of cellular and metabolic processes, with an obvious functional skew toward carbon metabolism and regulation of cell proliferation. Further analysis of proteome data, physiological measurements and cell morphological observations showed that, compared to the wild-type, the low-P-tolerant mutant could accumulate and secrete more citrate under Pi starvation, which facilitates solubilization of soil Pi and enhances Pi absorption. The proportion of sucrose in the total soluble sugars of the low-P-tolerant mutant was significantly higher, and cell proliferation in root meristem was accelerated. This resulted in better developed roots and more advantageous root morphology for Pi uptake. These results indicate that differences in citrate secretion, sugar metabolism and root-cell proliferation are the main reasons for higher tolerance to low-P conditions in the mutant compared to the wild-type. Thus, the mutant displayed specialized P-efficient root systems with a higher capacity for mobilization of external Pi and increased cell division in the root meristem under Pi starvation.