The cloning, sequencing and mutational analysis of the Bradyrhizobium japonicum symbiotic nitrogen fixation genes fixL and fixJ are reported here. The two genes were adjacent and probably formed an operon, fixLJ. The predicted FixL and FixJ proteins, members of the two-component sensor/regulator family, were homologous over almost their entire lengths to the corresponding Rhizobium meliloti proteins (approx. 50% identity). Downstream of the B. japonicum fixJ gene was found an open reading frame with 138 codons (ORF138) whose product shared 36% homology with the N-terminal part of FixJ. Deletion and insertion mutations within fixL and fixJ led to a loss of approximately 90% wild-type symbiotic nitrogen fixation (Fix) activity, whereas an ORF138 mutant was Fix+. In fixL, fixJ and ORF138 mutant backgrounds, the aerobic expression of the fixR-nifA operon was not affected. NifA itself did not regulate the expression of the fixJ gene. Thus, the B. japonicum FixL and FixJ proteins were neither involved in the regulation of aerobic nifA gene expression nor in the anaerobic NifA-dependent autoregulation of the fixRnifA operon, rather they appeared to control symbiotically important genes other than those whose expression was dependent on the NifA protein. The fixL and fixJ mutant strains were unable to grow anaerobically with nitrate as the terminal electron acceptor. Therefore, some of the FixJ-dependent genes in B. japonicum may be concerned with anaerobic respiration.