A novel nitrogen control system regulating the transcription of genes expressed in response to nitrogen starvation in Corynebacterium glutamicum was identified by us recently. In this communication, we also show that the nitrogen regulation cascade in C. glutamicum functions by a new mechanism, although components highly similar to sensor and signal transmitter proteins of Escherichia coli are used, namely uridylyltransferase and a PII-type GlnK protein. The genes encoding these key components of the nitrogen regulation cascade, glnD and glnK, are organized in an operon together with amtB, which codes for an ammonium permease. Using a combination of site-directed mutagenesis, RNA hybridization experiments, reporter gene assays, transport measurements and non-denaturing gel electrophoresis followed by immunodetection, we showed that GlnK is essential for nitrogen control and that signal transduction is transmitted by uridylylation of this protein. As a consequence of the latter, a glnD deletion strain lacking uridylyltransferase is impaired in its response to nitrogen shortage. The glnD mutant revealed a decreased growth rate in the presence of limiting amounts of ammonium or urea; additionally, changes in its protein profile were observed, as shown by in vivo labelling and two-dimensional PAGE. In contrast to E. coli, expression of glnD is upregulated upon nitrogen limitation in C. glutamicum. This indicates that the glnD gene product is probably not the primary sensor of nitrogen status in C. glutamicum as shown for enterobacteria. In accordance with this hypothesis, we found a deregulated nitrogen control as a result of the overexpression of glnD. Furthermore, quantification of cytoplasmic amino acid pools excluded the possibility that a fall in glutamine concentration is perceived as the signal for nitrogen starvation by C. glutamicum, as is found in enterobacteria. Direct measurements of the intracellular ammonium pool indicated that the concentration of this compound might indicate the cellular nitrogen status. Deduced from glnK and glnD expression patterns and the genetic organization of these genes, this regulatory mechanism is also present in Corynebacterium diphtheriae, the causative agent of diphtheria.