Salvia miltiorrhiza is a traditional Chinese herbal medicine, whose quality and yield are often affected by diseases and environmental stresses during its growing season. Salicylic acid (SA) plays a significant role in plants responding to biotic and abiotic stresses, but the involved regulatory factors and their signaling mechanisms are largely unknown. In order to identify the genes involved in SA signaling, the RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) strategy was employed to evaluate the transcriptional profiles in S. miltiorrhiza cell cultures. A total of 50,778 unigenes were assembled, in which 5,316 unigenes were differentially expressed among 0-, 2-, and 8-h SA induction. The up-regulated genes were mainly involved in stimulus response and multi-organism process. A core set of candidate novel genes coding SA signaling component proteins was identified. Many transcription factors (e.g., WRKY, bHLH and GRAS) and genes involved in hormone signal transduction were differentially expressed in response to SA induction. Detailed analysis revealed that genes associated with defense signaling, such as antioxidant system genes, cytochrome P450s and ATP-binding cassette transporters, were significantly overexpressed, which can be used as genetic tools to investigate disease resistance. Our transcriptome analysis will help understand SA signaling and its mechanism of defense systems in S. miltiorrhiza
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