Previous work has shown that in rice suspension cells, NaCl at 0.4 M can induce Em gene expression and act synergistically with ABA, possibly by potentiating the ABA response pathway through a rate-limiting intermediate (R.M. Bostock and R.S. Quatrano (1992) Plant Physiol., 98, 1356-1363). Since calcium is an intermediate in ABA regulation of stomatal closure, we tested the effect of calcium changes on ABA-inducible Em gene expression in transiently transformed rice protoplasts. We show that calcium is required for ABA-inducible Em-GUS expression and can act in synergy with ABA. The trivalent ions lanthanum, gadolinium, and aluminum, which are known to interact with calcium- and other signaling pathways, can act at sub-millimolar concentrations to increase GUS reporter gene expression driven by several promoters in transiently transformed rice protoplasts. This effect is not specific for the ABA-inducible Em promoter, but is synergistic with ABA. The lanthanum synergy with ABA does not require calcium. In rice suspension cells, lanthanum alone does not induce Em gene expression, in contrast to transiently transformed protoplasts, yet can act synergistically with ABA to effectively increase the sensitivity to ABA greater than tenfold. Trivalent ions may be a useful tool to study the regulation of gene expression. The possible effects of trivalent ions on ABA signal transduction and gene expression are discussed.