Secretion systems and signal exchange between nitrogen-fixing rhizobia and legumes

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The formation of symbiotic nitrogen-fixing nodules on the roots and/or stem of leguminous plants involves a complex signal exchange between both partners. Since many microorganisms are present in the soil, legumes and rhizobia must recognize and initiate communication with each other to establish symbioses. This results in the formation of nodules. Rhizobia within nodules exchange fixed nitrogen for carbon from the legume. Symbiotic relationships can become non-beneficial if one partner ceases to provide support to the other. As a result, complex signal exchange mechanisms have evolved to ensure continued, beneficial symbioses. Proper recognition and signal exchange is also the basis for host specificity. Nodule formation always provides a fitness benefit to rhizobia, but does not always provide a fitness benefit to legumes. Therefore, legumes have evolved a mechanism to regulate the number of nodules that are formed, this is called autoregulation of nodulation. Sequencing of many different rhizobia have revealed the presence of several secretion systems - and the Type III, Type IV, and Type VI secretion systems are known to be used by pathogens to transport effector proteins. These secretion systems are also known to have an effect on host specificity and are a determinant of overall nodule number on legumes. This review focuses on signal exchange between rhizobia and legumes, particularly focusing on the role of secretion systems involved in nodule formation and host specificity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number491
JournalFrontiers in Plant Science
Issue numberJULY
StatePublished - Jul 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Nelson and Sadowsky.


  • Effector proteins
  • Nodulation
  • Rhizobia
  • Signal exchange
  • Symbiosis
  • Type III secretion system
  • Type IV secretion system
  • Type VI secretion system


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