Phosphoenolpyruvate carboxylase (PEPC) plays a key role in N2 fixation and ammonia assimilation in legume root nodules. The enzyme can comprise up to 2% of the soluble protein in root nodules. We report here the isolation and characterization of a cDNA encoding the nodule-enhanced form of PEPC. Initially, a 2945 bp partial-length cDNA was selected by screening an effective alfalfa nodule cDNA library with antibodies prepared against root nodule PEPC. The nucleotide sequence encoding the N-terminal region of the protein was obtained by primer-extension cDNA synthesis and PCR amplification. The complete amino acid sequence of alfalfa PEPC was deduced from these cDNA sequences and shown to bear striking similarity to other plant PEPCs. Southern blots of alfalfa genomic DNA indicate that nodule PEPC is a member of a small gene family. During the development of effective root nodules, nodule PEPC activity increases to a level that is 10- to 15-fold greater than that in root and leaf tissue. This increase appears to be the result of increases in amount of enzyme protein and PEPC mRNA. Ineffective nodules have substantially less PEPC mRNA, enzyme protein and activity than do effective nodules. Maximum expression of root nodule PEPC appears to be related to two signals. The first signal is associated with nodule initiation while the second signal is associated with nodule effectiveness. Regulation of root nodule PEPC activity may also involve post-translational processes affecting enzyme activity and/or degradation.