Cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L. cv LG102) seedlings raised from seeds exposed to 100 [mu]M norflurazon (NFZ) during imbibition contained reduced levels of free abscisic acid (ABA) and were visibly achlorophyllous. Exposure of untreated cotton seedlings to ethylene concentrations >1 [mu]L/L for 24 h resulted in cotyledon abscission. In contrast, exposure of NFZ-treated seedlings to concentrations of ethylene [less than or equal to]50 [mu]L/L elicited no cotyledon abscission. Application of ABA, an ABA analog, or jasmonic acid to NFZ-treated seedlings restored ethylene-induced abscission. Isolated cotyledonary node explants prepared from NFZ-treated seedlings exhibited an altered dose-response pattern of ethylene-induced petiole abscission. Endogenous levels of free IAA were unaltered in NFZ-treated seedlings. Ethylene treatment (50 [mu]L/L, 24 h) had no effect on free indoleacetic acid (IAA) levels in either control or NFZ-treated seedlings. Levels of conjugated (ester plus amide) IAA were substantially increased in NFZ-treated seedlings regardless of ethylene treatment. These results indicate that endogenous ABA plays an essential, but physiologically undefined, role in ethylene-induced cotyledon abscission in cotton.