Lotus japonicus has been proposed as a model legume for molecular genetic studies of symbiotic plant-microbe interactions leading to the fixation of atmospheric nitrogen. Lipochitin oligosaccharides (LCOs), or Nod factors, were isolated from the culture of Mesorhizobium loti strain JRL501 (MAFF303099), an efficient microsymbiont of L. japonicus B-129 cv. Gifu. High-performance liquid chromatography and mass spectrometric analyses allowed us to identify at least five different structures of LCOs that were produced by JRL501. The major component was NodMl-V(C18:1, Me, Cb, AcFuc), an N-acetyl-glucosamine pentamer in which the nonreducing residue is N-acylated with a C18:1 acyl moiety, N-methylated, and carries a carbamoyl group and the reducing N-acetylglucosamine residue is substituted with 4-O-acetyl-fucose. Additional novel LCO structures bearing fucose instead of acetyl-fucose at the reducing end were identified. Mixtures of these LCOs could elicit abundant root hair deformation on L. japonicus roots at a concentration of 10(-7) to 10(-9) M. Spot inoculation of a few nanograms of LCOs on L. japonicus roots induced the formation of nodule primordia in which the early nodulin genes, ENOD40 and ENOD2, were expressed in a tissue-specific manner. We also observed the formation of a cytoplasmic bridge (preinfection thread) in the swollen outermost cortical cells. This is the first description of cytoplasmic bridge formation by purified LCOs alone in a legume-forming determinate nodules.