Time-dependent changes in enzymatic and non-enzymatic antioxidants, and lipid peroxidation were investigated in roots of rice (Oryza sativa) grown hydroponically with Cd, with or without pretreatment of salicylic acid (SA). Exposure to 50 microM Cd significantly decreased root growth, and activities of superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase (CAT) and peroxidase (POD), but increased the concentrations of H(2)O(2), malondialdehyde (MDA), ascorbic acid (AsA), glutathione (GSH) and non-protein thiols (NPT). However, pretreatment with 10 microM SA enhanced the activities of antioxidant enzymes and the concentrations of non-enzymatic antioxidants, but lowered the concentrations of H(2)O(2) and MDA in the Cd-stressed rice compared with the Cd treatment alone. Pretreatment with SA alleviated the Cd-induced inhibition of root growth. The results showed that pretreatment with SA enhanced the antioxidant defense activities in Cd-stressed rice, thus alleviating Cd-induced oxidative damage and enhancing Cd tolerance. The possible mechanism of SA-induced H(2)O(2) signaling in mediating Cd tolerance was discussed.