Melatonin enhances drought stress tolerance in maize through coordinated regulation of carbon and nitrogen assimilation

Plant Physiol Biochem. 2021 Oct;167:958-969. doi: 10.1016/j.plaphy.2021.09.007. Epub 2021 Sep 8.


Melatonin is a pleiotropic regulatory molecule in plants and is involved in regulating plant tolerance to drought stress. Here, we conducted transcriptomic and physiological analyses to identify metabolic processes associated with the enhanced tolerance of the melatonin-treated maize (Zea mays L.) seedlings to water deficit. Maize seedlings were foliar sprayed with either 50 μM melatonin or water and exposed to drought stress for 12 d in growth chambers. Drought stress significantly suppressed seedling growth, and melatonin application partially alleviated this growth inhibition. RNA-Seq analysis revealed that genes whose expression was significantly altered by melatonin were mainly related to carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) metabolism. Analysis of transcriptomics, enzyme activity, and metabolite content data, melatonin-treated plants exhibited a higher level of relatively stable C and N metabolism than untreated plants; this phenotype of melatonin-treated plants was associated with their higher photosynthesis, sucrose biosynthesis, N assimilation, and protein biosynthesis capacities under drought stress. Overall, our results suggest that melatonin enhances drought stress tolerance in maize through coordinated regulation of C and N metabolism.

Keywords: C/N assimilation; Drought stress; Melatonin; Transcriptome.

MeSH terms

  • Carbon / metabolism
  • Droughts*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Plant
  • Melatonin* / pharmacology
  • Nitrogen / metabolism
  • Seedlings / metabolism
  • Stress, Physiological
  • Zea mays / metabolism


  • Carbon
  • Melatonin
  • Nitrogen