Alfalfa NADH-dependent glutamate synthase (NADH-GOGAT), together with glutamine synthetase, plays a central role in the assimilation of symbiotically fixed nitrogen into amino acids in root nodules. Antibodies previously raised against purified NADH-GOGAT were employed to screen a cDNA library prepared using RNA isolated from nodules of 20-day-old alfalfa plants. A 7.2-kb cDNA clone was obtained that contained the entire protein coding region of NADH-GOGAT. Analysis of this cDNA and determination of the amino-terminal amino acids of the purified protein revealed that NADH-GOGAT is synthesized as a 2194-amino acid protein that includes a 101-amino acid presequence. The deduced amino acid sequence shares significant identity with maize ferredoxin-dependent GOGAT, and with both large and small subunits of Escherichia coli NADPH-GOGAT. DNA gel blot analysis of alfalfa genomic DNA suggests the presence of a single NADH-GOGAT gene or a small gene family. The expression of NADH-GOGAT mRNA, enzyme protein, and enzyme activity was developmentally regulated in root nodules. A dramatic increase in gene expression occurred coincidentally with the onset of nitrogen fixation in the bacteroid, and was absent in both ineffective plants that were nodulated with effective Rhizobium meliloti and effective plants that had been nodulated with ineffective R. meliloti strains. Maximum NADH-GOGAT expression, therefore, appears to require an effective, nitrogen-fixing symbiosis.