Over-expression of glutamine synthetase (GS, EC 18.104.22.168), a key enzyme in nitrogen assimilation, may be a reasonable approach to enhance plant nitrogen use efficiency. In this work phenotypic and biochemical characterizations of young transgenic poplars showing ectopic expression of a pine cytosolic GS transgene in photosynthetic tissue (Gallardo et al., Planta 210, 19–26, 1999) are presented. Analysis of 22 independent transgenic lines in a 6 month greenhouse study indicated that expression of the pine GS transgene affects early vegetative growth and leaf morphology. In comparison with non-transgenic controls, transgenic trees exhibited significantly greater numbers of nodes and leaves (12%), and higher average leaf length and width resulting in an increase in leaf area (25%). Leaf shape was not altered. Transgenic poplars also exhibited increased GS activity (66%), chlorophyll content (33%) and protein content (21%). Plant height was correlated with GS content in young leaves, suggesting that GS can be considered a marker for vegetative growth. Molecular and kinetic characterization of GS isoforms in leaves indicated that poplar GS isoforms are similar to their counterparts in herbaceous plants. A new GS isoenzyme that displayed molecular and kinetic characteristics corresponding to the octomeric pine cytosolic GS1 was identified in the photosynthetic tissues of transgenic poplar leaves. These results indicate that enhanced growth and alterations in biochemistry during early growth are the consequence of transgene expression and assembly of pine GS1 subunits into a new functional holoenzyme in the cytosol of photosynthetic cells.