The effects of thiamin (Thi) applied as seed soaking or foliar spray on some key physiological parameters were investigated in two differentially salt-responsive maize (Zea mays L.) cultivars, DK 5783 and Apex 836 F1, exposed to saline stress in two different experiments. An initial experiment (germination experiment) was designed to identify appropriate doses of Thi which could lessen the deleterious effects of salt on plants and screen all available maize cultivars for their differential tolerance to salt stress (100 mM NaCl). The seeds of nine maize cultivars were soaked for 24 h in solutions containing six levels of Thi (25, 50, 75, 100, 125 and 150 mg l(-1)). Based on the results obtained from the germination experiment, maize cultivar DK 5783 was found to be the most salt tolerant and Apex 836 as the most sensitive cultivar. Also, of six Thi levels used, two levels (100 and 125 mg l(-1)) were chosen for subsequent studies. In the second experiment (glasshouse experiment), two maize cultivars, DK 5783 (salt tolerant) and Apex 836 (salt sensitive) were subjected to saline regime (100 mM NaCl) and two levels of Thi (100 and 125 mg l(-1)) applied as foliar spray. Salt stress markedly suppressed shoot and root dry mass, total chlorophylls ("a'' ? "b''), leaf water potential and maximum fluorescence yield (Fv/Fm) in the plants of both maize cultivars, but it increased proline accumulation, leaf osmotic pressure, malondialdehyde (MDA) and hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) concentrations, electrolyte leakage (EL) as well as activities of some key antioxidant enzymes, superoxide dismutase (SOD; EC. 184.108.40.206), peroxidase (POD; EC. 220.127.116.11) and catalase (CAT; EC. 18.104.22.168). Salt-induced reduction in plant growth parameters was higher in the salt-sensitive cultivar, Apex 836, which was found to be associated with relatively increased EL, and MDA and H2O2 levels, and decreased activities of the key antioxidant enzymes. Application of Thi as seed soaking or foliar spray partly mitigated the deleterious effects of salinity on plants of both maize cultivars. The most promising effect of Thi on alleviation of adverse effects of salt stress on maize plants was found when it was applied as foliar spray at 100 mg l(-1). Thiamin application considerably reduced tissue Na+ concentration, but improved those of N, P, Ca2+ and K+ in the salt-stressed maize plants. Exogenously applied thiamin-induced growth improvement in maize plants was found to be associated with reduced membrane permeability, MDA and H2O2 levels, and altered activities of some key antioxidant enzymes such as CAT, SOD and POD as well as increased photosynthetic pigment concentration under saline regime.