Small-peptide Signals That Control Root Nodule Number, Development, and Symbiosis

J Exp Bot. 2015 Aug;66(17):5171-81. doi: 10.1093/jxb/erv357.


Many legumes have the capacity to enter into a symbiotic association with soil bacteria generically called 'rhizobia' that results in the formation of new lateral organs on roots called nodules within which the rhizobia fix atmospheric nitrogen (N). Up to 200 million tonnes of N per annum is fixed by this association. Therefore, this symbiosis plays an integral role in the N cycle and is exploited in agriculture to support the sustainable fixation of N for cropping and animal production in developing and developed nations. Root nodulation is an expendable developmental process and competency for nodulation is coupled to low-N conditions. Both nodule initiation and development is suppressed under high-N conditions. Although root nodule formation enables sufficient N to be fixed for legumes to grow under N-deficient conditions, the carbon cost is high and nodule number is tightly regulated by local and systemic mechanisms. How legumes co-ordinate nodule formation with the other main organs of nutrient acquisition, lateral roots, is not fully understood. Independent mechanisms appear to regulate lateral roots and nodules under low- and high-N regimes. Recently, several signalling peptides have been implicated in the local and systemic regulation of nodule and lateral root formation. Other peptide classes control the symbiotic interaction of rhizobia with the host. This review focuses on the roles played by signalling peptides during the early stages of root nodule formation, in the control of nodule number, and in the establishment of symbiosis. Here, we highlight the latest findings and the gaps in our understanding of these processes.

Keywords: Nitrogen; nodulation; secreted peptides; signalling; signalling peptides; symbiosis..

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Fabaceae / genetics
  • Fabaceae / growth & development
  • Fabaceae / microbiology
  • Fabaceae / physiology*
  • Peptides / genetics*
  • Peptides / metabolism
  • Plant Proteins / genetics*
  • Plant Proteins / metabolism
  • Plant Root Nodulation*
  • Root Nodules, Plant / genetics
  • Root Nodules, Plant / growth & development
  • Root Nodules, Plant / microbiology
  • Root Nodules, Plant / physiology*
  • Symbiosis


  • Peptides
  • Plant Proteins