Early interactions between legumes and rhizobia: disclosing complexity in a molecular dialogue

J Appl Microbiol. 2007 Nov;103(5):1355-65. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2672.2007.03366.x.


The exchange of chemical signals between soil bacteria (rhizobia) and legumes has been termed a molecular dialogue. As initially conceived in the early 1990s, it involved two main groups of molecules: nod gene-inducing flavonoids from plants and the mitogenic lipochito-oligosaccharide Nod factors of rhizobia. This review considers how subsequent research revealed the existence of a more complex set of interactions, featuring expanded roles for the original participants and contributions from additional plant and bacterial metabolites. Rhizobia respond to chemoattractants and growth-enhancing compounds in root exudates, and several plant nonflavonoids possess nod gene-inducing properties. Expression of non-nod genes is induced by flavonoids; these include encoders of a type I secreted protein and the entire type III, and possibly also type IV, secretion systems. Many other genes and proteins in rhizobia are flavonoid-inducible but their functions are largely unknown. Rhizobia produce far more Nod factor variants than was previously envisaged and their structures can be influenced by the pH of the environment. Other symbiotically active compounds or systems of rhizobia, some of them universally present, are: the surface polysaccharides, quorum-sensing N-acyl homoserine lactones, plant growth-promoting lumichrome and two-component regulatory systems.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Fabaceae / physiology*
  • Flavonoids / physiology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial*
  • Genes, Bacterial*
  • Genes, Plant
  • Nitrogen Fixation
  • Quorum Sensing
  • Rhizobium / genetics*
  • Symbiosis


  • Flavonoids