The role of the phytohormone abscisic acid (ABA) in the regulation of proline synthesis was investigated by following the expression of the At-P5S and At-P5R proline biosynthesis genes in Arabidopsis thaliana wild type, in an ABA-deficient aba1-1 mutant as well as in ABA-insensitive abi1-1 and abi2-1 mutants after ABA, cold and osmotic stress treatments. In wild-type and in ABA mutant seedlings, 50 microM ABA or osmotic stress treatment triggered expression of At-P5S, whereas At-P5R accumulation was scarcely detectable. Expression of either gene was mediated by endogenous ABA since transcript levels were similar in wild-type and in ABA-deficient mutant plants. Proline accumulated to a greater extent after osmotic stress than upon ABA or cold treatment. Thus, ABA-treated abi1-1 mutant plants accumulated less proline than the ABA-treated wild type. Upon salt stress, proline accumulated to a lesser extent in aba1-1 and abi1-1 mutant plants, suggesting an indirect role of ABA on proline accumulation during salt adaptation of the plant. These results indicate that the expression of the genes of the proline biosynthetic pathway is ABA independent upon cold and osmotic treatments, although their expression can be triggered by exogenously applied ABA. However, the endogenous ABA content may affect proline accumulation upon salt stress, suggesting post-transcriptional control of proline biosynthesis in response to NaCl.