The halophyte Mesembryanthemum crystallinum is an inducible crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) plant native to seasonally arid coastal environments that has been widely used to study plant responses to environmental stress. On exposure of plants to salt, the activities of both the tonoplast (vacuolar) H(+)-ATPase (V-ATPase) and Na+/H+ antiporter increase in leaf cells, thereby energizing vacuolar salt accumulation. To investigate the molecular basis of this response, a cDNA (Vmac1) encoding the H(+)-conducting c subunit (16.6 kDa) of an M. crystallinum V-ATPase has been cloned. Northern analysis of RNA from leaves of plants treated with NaCl or with isoosmotic mannitol solutions demonstrated (i) that NaCl increased steady-state transcript levels for the V-ATPase c subunit, and (ii) that this effect was caused by the ionic rather than the osmotic component of salt stress. Southern analysis of genomic DNA suggested the probable existence of more than one gene for this subunit of the V-ATPase in M. crystallinum. Expression studies using the 3'-untranslated region of the Vmac1 cDNa as a probe showed that the corresponding salt-inducible transcript was preferentially expressed in leaves. Induction by salt was also observed in juvenile plants in addition to adult ones. These findings, as well as the inability of mannitol to upregulate mRNA levels for this gene, clearly differentiate between the induction of transcript for the V-ATPase c subunit and for genes involved in the CAM pathway in M. crystallinum. Further, the plant growth regulator abscisic acid (ABA) was able to mimic the effect of salt on transcript levels for the V-ATPase c subunit, suggesting the possible involvement of ABA in a distinct signal-transduction pathway linked to vacuolar salt accumulation in this highly salt-tolerant species.