Despite the fact that urea is a ubiquitous nitrogen source in soils and the most widespread form of nitrogen fertilizer used in agricultural plant production, membrane transporters that might contribute to the uptake of urea in plant roots have so far been characterized only in heterologous systems. Two T-DNA insertion lines, atdur3-1 and atdur3-3, that showed impaired growth on urea as a sole nitrogen source were used to investigate a role of the H+/urea co-transporter AtDUR3 in nitrogen nutrition in Arabidopsis. In transgenic lines expressing AtDUR3-promoter:GFP constructs, promoter activity was upregulated under nitrogen deficiency and localized to the rhizodermis, including root hairs, as well as to the cortex in more basal root zones. Protein gel blot analysis of two-phase partitioned root membrane fractions and whole-mount immunolocalization in root hairs revealed the plasma membrane to be enriched in AtDUR3 protein. Expression of the AtDUR3 gene in nitrogen-deficient roots was repressed by ammonium and nitrate but induced after supply of urea. Higher accumulation of urea in roots of wild-type plants relative to atdur3-1 and atdur3-3 confirmed that urea was the substrate transported by AtDUR3. Influx of 15N-labeled urea in atdur3-1 and atdur3-3 showed a linear concentration dependency up to 200 microM external urea, whereas influx in wild-type roots followed saturation kinetics with an apparent Km of 4 microM. The results indicate that AtDUR3 is the major transporter for high-affinity urea uptake in Arabidopsis roots and suggest that the high substrate affinity of AtDUR3 reflects an adaptation to the low urea levels usually found in unfertilized soils.