Systemic signaling of the plant nitrogen status triggers specific transcriptome responses depending on the nitrogen source in Medicago truncatula

Plant Physiol. 2008 Apr;146(4):2020-35. doi: 10.1104/pp.107.115667. Epub 2008 Feb 20.


Legumes can acquire nitrogen (N) from NO(3)(-), NH(4)(+), and N(2) (through symbiosis with Rhizobium bacteria); however, the mechanisms by which uptake and assimilation of these N forms are coordinately regulated to match the N demand of the plant are currently unknown. Here, we find by use of the split-root approach in Medicago truncatula plants that NO(3)(-) uptake, NH(4)(+) uptake, and N(2) fixation are under general control by systemic signaling of plant N status. Indeed, irrespective of the nature of the N source, N acquisition by one side of the root system is repressed by high N supply to the other side. Transcriptome analysis facilitated the identification of over 3,000 genes that were regulated by systemic signaling of the plant N status. However, detailed scrutiny of the data revealed that the observation of differential gene expression was highly dependent on the N source. Localized N starvation results, in the unstarved roots of the same plant, in a strong compensatory up-regulation of NO(3)(-) uptake but not of either NH(4)(+) uptake or N(2) fixation. This indicates that the three N acquisition pathways do not always respond similarly to a change in plant N status. When taken together, these data indicate that although systemic signals of N status control root N acquisition, the regulatory gene networks targeted by these signals, as well as the functional response of the N acquisition systems, are predominantly determined by the nature of the N source.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Genome, Plant
  • Medicago / genetics
  • Medicago / metabolism*
  • Nitrogen / metabolism*
  • Plant Roots / metabolism
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics*
  • Signal Transduction*
  • Transcription, Genetic


  • RNA, Messenger
  • Nitrogen