The plant-specific NAC transcription factors (TFs) play important roles in regulation of diverse biological processes, including development, growth, cell division and responses to environmental stimuli. In this study, we identified the members of the NAC TF family of chickpea (Cicer arietinum) and assess their expression profiles during plant development and under dehydration and abscisic acid (ABA) treatments in a systematic manner. Seventy-one CaNAC genes were detected from the chickpea genome, including 8 membrane-bound members of which many might be involved in dehydration responses as judged from published literature. Phylogenetic analysis of the chickpea and well-known stress-related Arabidopsis and rice NACs enabled us to predict several putative stress-related CaNACs. By exploring available transcriptome data, we provided a comprehensive expression atlas of CaNACs in various tissues at different developmental stages. With the highest interest in dehydration responses, we examined the expression of the predicted stress-related and membrane-bound CaNACs in roots and leaves of chickpea seedlings, subjected to well-watered (control), dehydration and ABA treatments, using real-time quantitative PCR (RT-qPCR). Nine-teen of the 23 CaNACs examined were found to be dehydration-responsive in chickpea roots and/ or leaves in either ABA-dependent or -independent pathway. Our results have provided a solid foundation for selection of promising tissue-specific and/or dehydration-responsive CaNAC candidates for detailed in planta functional analyses, leading to development of transgenic chickpea varieties with improved productivity under drought.
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