BACKGROUND: Chickpea is an important food legume crop with high protein levels that is widely grown in rainfed areas prone to drought stress. Using an integrated approach, we describe the relative changes in some physiological parameters and the proteome of a drought-tolerant (MCC537, T) and drought-sensitive (MCC806, S) chickpea genotype. RESULTS: Under progressive dehydration stress, the T genotype relied on a higher relative leaf water content after 3 and 5 d (69.7 and 49.3%) than the S genotype (59.7 and 40.3%) to maintain photosynthetic activities and improve endurance under stress. This may have been facilitated by greater proline accumulation in the T genotype than the S genotype (14.3 and 11.1 μmol g- 1 FW at 5 d, respectively). Moreover, the T genotype had less electrolyte leakage and lower malondialdehyde contents than the S genotype under dehydration stress, indicating greater membrane stability and thus greater dehydration tolerance. The proteomic analysis further confirmed that, in response to dehydration, the T genotype activated more proteins related to photosynthesis, stress response, protein synthesis and degradation, and gene transcription and signaling than the S genotype. Of the time-point dependent proteins, the largest difference in protein abundance occurred at 5 d, with 29 spots increasing in the T genotype and 30 spots decreasing in the S genotype. Some of the identified proteins-including RuBisCo, ATP synthase, carbonic anhydrase, psbP domain-containing protein, L-ascorbate peroxidase, 6-phosphogluconate dehydrogenase, elongation factor Tu, zinc metalloprotease FTSH 2, ribonucleoproteins and auxin-binding protein-may play a functional role in drought tolerance in chickpea. CONCLUSIONS: This study highlights the significance of genotype- and time-specific proteins associated with dehydration stress and identifies potential resources for molecular drought tolerance improvement in chickpea.