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Durable resistance to blast, the most significant fungal disease of rice, represents an agronomically relevant character. Gigante Vercelli (GV) and Vialone Nano (VN) are two old temperate japonica Italian rice cultivars with contrasting response to blast infection: GV displays durable and broad resistance while VN is highly susceptible. RNA-seq was used to dissect the early molecular processes deployed during the resistance response of GV at 24 h after blast inoculation. Differential gene expression analysis identified 1,070 and 1,484 modulated genes, of which 726 and 699 were up regulated in response to infection in GV and VN, respectively. Gene ontology (GO) enrichment analyses revealed a set of GO terms enriched in both varieties but, despite this commonality, the gene sets contributing to common GO enriched terms were dissimilar. The expression patterns of genes grouped in GV-specific enriched GO terms were examined in detail including at the transcript isoform level. GV exhibited a dramatic up-regulation of genes encoding diterpene phytoalexin biosynthetic enzymes, flavin-containing monooxygenase, class I chitinase and glycosyl hydrolase 17. The sensitivity and high dynamic range of RNA-seq allowed the identification of genes critically involved in conferring GV resistance during the early steps of defence perception-signalling. These included chitin oligosaccharides sensing factors, wall associated kinases, MAPK cascades and WRKY transcription factors. Candidate genes with expression patterns consistent with a potential role as GV-specific functional resistance (R) gene(s) were also identified. This first application of RNA-seq to dissect durable blast resistance supports a crucial role of the prompt induction of a battery of responses including defence-related genes as well as members of gene families involved in signalling and pathogen-related gene expression regulation.