ABSTRACT. The objective of this study was to evaluate gene expression related to water deficit tolerance in maize lines. For this, lines previously classified as tolerant (91-T and 32-T) and non-tolerant (24-NT and 57-NT) to water deficit were used. The seeds of the four lines were evaluated for emergence and emergence speed index, and the seedlings were evaluated for root and shoot length under two conditions of water availability (70 and 10% substrate water retention capacity). In transcript analysis, the expression of several genes associated with water deficit tolerance, ZmDBP3, ZmALDH9, ZmAN13, and ZmDREB2A, was evaluated by qRT-PCR for the 91-T and 57-NT lines. It can be concluded that soil water deficiency did not reduce root development. However, the shoot length was significantly lower under dry conditions. Through transcript analysis, the genes ZmDBP3 and ZmAN13 were identified as potential markers for the early selection of maize lines tolerant to water deficit.