Interface defects generated by negative-bias temperature stress (NBTS) in an ultrathin plasma- nitrided SiON/Si(100) system were characterized by using D2 annealing, conductance-frequency measurements, and electron-spin resonance measurements. D2 annealing was shown to lower negative-bias temperature instability (NBTI) than H2 annealing. Interfacial Si dangling bonds (Pb1 and Pb0 centers), whose density is comparable to an increase in interface trap density, were detected in a NBTS-stressed sample. The NBTI of the plasma-nitrided SiON/Si system was thus shown to occur through Pb depassivation. Furthermore, the nitridation was shown to increase the Pb1/Pb0 density ratio and modify the Pb1 structure. Such a predominance and structural modification of Pb1 centers are presumed to increase NBTI by enhancing the Pb–H dissociation. Although we suggest that NBTS may also induce non-Pb defects, nitrogen dangling bonds do not seem to be included in them. © 2003 American Institute of Physics.