Changes in cytosolic free calcium concentration ([Ca2+]cyt) in response to mannitol (drought) and salt treatments were detected in vivo in intact whole Arabidopsis seedlings. Transient elevations of [Ca2+]cyt to around 1.5 microM were observed, and these were substantially inhibited by pretreatment with the calcium-channel blocker lanthanum and to a lesser extent, the calcium-chelator EGTA. The expression of three genes, p5cs, which encodes delta(1)-pyrroline-5-carboxylate synthetase (P5CS), the first enzyme of the proline biosynthesis pathway, rab18 and Iti78 which both encode proteins of unknown function, was induced by mannitol and salt treatments. The induction of all three genes by mannitol was inhibited by pretreatment with lanthanum. Salt-induced p5cs, but not rab18 and Iti78, expression was also inhibited by lanthanum. Induction of p5cs by mannitol was also inhibited by the calcium channel-blockers gadolinium and verapamil and the calcium chelator EGTA, further suggesting the involvement of calcium signalling in this response. Mannitol induced greater levels of p5cs gene expression than an isoosmolar concentration of salt, at both relatively high and low concentrations. However, calcium transients were of a similar magnitude and duration in response to both mannitol and isoosmolar concentrations of salt, suggesting that a factor other than calcium is involved in the discrimination between drought and salinity signals in Arabidopsis. In order to gauge the involvement of the vacuole as an intracellular calcium store in the response of Arabidopsis to mannitol, [Ca2+]cyt was measured at the microdomain adjacent to the vacuolar membrane. The results obtained were consistent with a significant calcium release from the vacuole contributing to the overall mannitol-induced [Ca2+]cyt response. Data obtained by using inhibitors of inositol signalling suggested that this release was occurring through IP3-dependent calcium channels.