Rising global temperatures are proving to be detrimental for the agriculture. Hence, strategies are needed to induce thermotolerance in food crops to sustain the food production. GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), a non-protein amino acid, can partially protect plants from high-temperature stress. This study hypothesises that declining GABA concentrations in the cells of heat-stressed mungbean plants increases the heat-sensitivity of reproductive function. Mungbean plants were grown in a natural, outdoor environment (29.3/16.1 +/- 1 degrees C as mean day/night temperature, 1350-1550 mu mol m(-2) s(-1) light intensity, 60-65% as mean relative humidity) until the start of the reproductive stage. Subsequently, two temperature treatments were imposed in a controlled environment-control (35/23 degrees C) and heat stress (45/28 degrees C)-at about 800 mu mol m(-2) s(-1) light intensity and 65-70% as mean relative humidity, until pod maturity. In heat-stressed (HS) plants, endogenous GABA concentrations in leaf and anther samples had declined by 49 and 60%, respectively, and to a much lesser degree in the plants, exogenously supplemented with 1 mM GABA. The reproductive function of GABA-treated heat-stressed plants improved significantly in terms of pollen germination, pollen viability, stigma receptivity and ovule viability, compared to untreated HS controls. In addition, GABA-treated heat-stressed plants had less damage to membranes, photosynthetic machinery (chlorophyll concentration, chlorophyll fluorescence, RuBisCO activity were functionally normal) and carbon assimilation (sucrose synthesis and its utilisation) than the untreated HS controls. Leaf water status improved significantly with GABA application, including enhanced accumulation of osmolytes such as proline and trehalose due to increase in the activities of their biosynthetic enzymes. GABA-treated heat-stressed plants produced more pods (28%) and seed weight (27%) plant(-1) than the untreated controls. This study is the first to report the involvement of GABA in protecting reproductive function in mungbean under heat stress, as a result of improved leaf turgor, carbon fixation and assimilation processes, through the augmentation of several enzymes related to these physiological processes.