Plants belonging to the legume family develop nitrogen-fixing root nodules in symbiosis with bacteria commonly known as rhizobia. The legume host encodes all of the functions necessary to build the specialized symbiotic organ, the nodule, but the process is elicited by the bacteria. Molecular communication initiates the interaction, and signals, usually flavones, secreted by the legume root induce the bacteria to produce a lipochitin-oligosaccharide signal molecule (Nod-factor), which in turn triggers the plant organogenic process. An important determinant of bacterial host specificity is the structure of the Nod-factor, suggesting that a plant receptor is involved in signal perception and signal transduction initiating the plant developmental response. Here we describe the cloning of a putative Nod-factor receptor kinase gene (NFR5) from Lotus japonicus. NFR5 is essential for Nod-factor perception and encodes an unusual transmembrane serine/threonine receptor-like kinase required for the earliest detectable plant responses to bacteria and Nod-factor. The extracellular domain of the putative receptor has three modules with similarity to LysM domains known from peptidoglycan-binding proteins and chitinases. Together with an atypical kinase domain structure this characterizes an unusual receptor-like kinase.