Effects of leaf rolling (LR) on maize photosynthesis under severe drought stress were studied in two cultivars with opposite drought responses, Batem 56-55 (drought tolerant) and Batem 51-52 (drought sensitive). Drought stress and artificial prevention of leaf rolling (PLR) were applied at grain filling stage for 30 days. LR in Batem 56-55 occurred later than in Batem 51-52. Leaf water potential (Psi(leaf)) did not change in Batem 56-55 but decreased in Batem 51-52 at LR. Maximum quantum yield of photosystem II (F-v/F-m), effective quantum yield of photosystem II (Phi(PSII)) and electron transport rate (ETR) of the cultivars decreased during LR more significantly in Batem 56-55 in comparison to Batem 51-52. The same was observed for the decrease in net photosynthetic rate (P-N), stomatal conductance (g(s)), transpiration (E) and intracellular level of CO2 (C-1) Rubisco activity and content were reduced at LR, but were less affected in Batem 56-55 than in Batem 51-52. Ear and kernel weights also decreased at LR. All parameters at PLR were more reduced than those of LR. These results implied that LR was an important and necessary mechanism protecting photosynthesis and reducing yield loss under drought stress by maintaining the leaf hydration, preventing loss of the photosynthetic pigments, sustaining the activity of PSII, keeping the stomata open, and conserving the activity of Rubisco.