Expression profiling revealed that SAPK1 and SAPK2 expression were strongly induced by drought, NaCl, and PEG treatment, but not by ABA. SAPK2 expression was highest in the leaves, followed by the roots, whereas SAPK1 was highest expressed in roots followed by leaves. Both proteins were localized to the nucleus and the cytoplasm. Under salt stress, sapk1, sapk2 and, in particular, sapk1/2 mutants, exhibited reduced germination rates, more severe growth inhibition, more distinct chlorosis, reduced chlorophyll contents, and reduced survival rates in comparison with the wild-type plants. In contrast, SAPK1- and SAPK2-overexpression lines had increased germination rates and reduced sensitivities to salt; including mild reductions in growth inhibition, reduced chlorosis, increased chlorophyll contents and improved survival rates in comparison with the wild-type plants. These results suggest that SAPK1 and SAPK2 may function collaboratively as positive regulators of salt stress tolerance at the germination and seedling stages. We also found that SAPK1 and SAPK2 affected the osmotic potential following salt stress by promoting the generation of osmotically active metabolites such as proline. SAPK1 and SAPK2 also improved reactive oxygen species (ROS) detoxification following salt stress by promoting the generation of ROS scavengers such as ascorbic acid, and by increasing the expression levels of proteins such as superoxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase (CAT). SAPK1 and SAPK2 may function collaboratively in reducing Na+ toxicity by affecting the Na+ distribution between roots and shoots, Na+ exclusion from the cytoplasm, and Na+ sequestration into the vacuoles. These effects may be facilitated through the expression of Na+-and K+-homeostasis-related genes.
SAPK1 and SAPK2 may function collaboratively as positive regulators of salt stress tolerance at the germination and seedling stages in rice. SAPK1 and SAPK2 may be useful to improve salt tolerance in crop plants.