Four clones corresponding to Arabidopsis thaliana transcripts regulated by progressive drought stress were isolated. Abundance of the AtDi8, AtDi19 and AtDi21 mRNAs increased in both roots and leaves during progressive drought. The AtDr4 mRNA was expressed in a root-specific manner in regularly watered plants, and became undetectable under drought conditions. In all cases, the drought-induced modifications of mRNA abundance could be reversed by subsequent rehydration. The predicted AtDr4 protein displays extensive similarity to various members of the Künitz protein family, suggesting that AtDr4 might be a root-specific protease inhibitor. Of these four genes, only AtDi8 and AtDi21 responded to an exogenous supply of abscisic acid (ABA). Analysis of the ABA-deficient aba mutant demonstrated that endogenous ABA indeed participates in the drought regulation of these two transcripts. This ABA-dependent response was differentially affected in the various classes of ABA-insensitive Arabidopsis mutants. The AtDi19 and AtDr4 mRNAs both responded to drought in an ABA-independent manner, but at distinct thresholds of the progressive drought stress. Regulation of these four target genes by progressive drought stress thus appears to be mediated by at least three distinct signals, only one of which is ABA.