Effects of cadmium (Cd2+) on photosynthetic and antioxidant activities of maize (Zea mays L.) cultivars (3223 and 32D99) were investigated. Fourteen-clay-old cultivar seedlings were exposed to different Cd concentrations [0, 0.3, 0.6 and 0.9mM Cd(NO3)(2)center dot 4H(2)O] for 8 days. The results of chlorophyll fluorescence indicated that different levels of Cd affected photochemical efficiency in 3223 much more than that in 32D99. In parallel, the level. of Cd at 0.9 mM caused oxidative damage but did not indicate cessation of PSII activity of the cultivars; plant death was not observed at highly toxic Cd levels. Additionally, the increase in Cd concentration caused loss of chlorophylls and carotenoid and membrane damage in both cultivars, but greater membrane damage was observed in 3223 than in 32D99. Depending on Cd accumulation, a significant reduction in dry biomass was observed in both cultivars at all Cd concentrations. The accumulation of Cd was higher in roots than in leaves for both cultivars. Nevertheless, cultivar 3223 transferred more Cd from roots to (eaves than did 32D99. On the other hand, our results suggest that there were similar responses in SOD, APX and GR activities with increasing Cd concentrations for both cultivars. However, POD activity significantly increased at highly toxic Cd levels in 32D99. This result may be regarded as an indication of better tolerance of the Z. mays L. cultivar 32D99 to Cd contamination. (C) 2007 Elsevier GmbH. All rights reserved.