Male reproductive development of rice (Oryza sativa L.) is very sensitive to drought. A brief, transitory episode of water stress during meiosis in pollen mother cells of rice grown under controlled environmental conditions induced pollen sterility. Anthers containing sterile pollen were smaller, thinner, and often deformed compared to normal anthers of well-watered plants. Only about 20% of the fully developed florets in stressed plants produced grains, compared to 90% in well-watered controls. Water stress treatments after meiosis were progressively less damaging. Levels of starch and sugars and activities of key enzymes involved in sucrose cleavage and starch synthesis were analyzed in anthers collected at various developmental stages from plants briefly stressed during meiosis and then re-watered. Normal starch accumulation during pollen development was strongly inhibited in stress-affected anthers. During the period of stress, both reducing and non-reducing sugars accumulated in anthers. After the relief of stress, reducing sugar levels fell somewhat below those in controls, but levels of non-reducing sugars remained higher than in controls. Activities of acid invertase and soluble starch synthase in stressed anthers were lower than in controls at comparable stages throughout development, during as well as after stress. Stress had no immediate effect on ADP-glucose pyrophosphorylase activity, but had an inhibitory aftereffect throughout post-stress development. Sucrose synthase activity, which was, relatively speaking, much lower than acid invertase activity, was only slightly suppressed by stress. The results show that it is unlikely that pollen sterility, or the attendant inhibition of starch accumulation, in water-stressed rice plants are caused by carbohydrate starvation per se. Instead, an impairment of enzymes of sugar metabolism and starch synthesis may be among the potential causes of this failure.