To assess how diurnal changes of nitrate reductase (NIA) expression in leaves interact with upstream and downstream processes during nitrate utilization, nitrate uptake, and nitrate and ammonium metabolism were investigated at several times during the diurnal cycle in wild-type tobacco. Plants were grown hydroponically on 2 mM nitrate to exclude possible complications due to changes in the external availability of nitrate, and to allow nitrate uptake to be measured in the growth conditions. (a) In leaves, the NIA transcript decreases during the day and recovers at night, and NIA activity increases three-fold during the first part and declines during the second part of the light period. Nitrate decreases during the day and recovers at night, ammonium, glutamine, glycine and serine increase during the day and decrease at night, and 2-oxoglutarate increases three-fold after illumination and decreases during the last part of the light period. The amplitudes of the diurnal changes are similar to or larger than in tobacco grown on high nitrate in sand. The transcript for plastid glutamine synthetase (GLN2) is low at the end of the night and increases during the day, and glutamine synthetase activity increases to a peak at the end of the day and decreases at night. (b) In the roots, transcript levels for the high affinity nitrate transporter (NRT2) increase in the day and decrease at night. Nitrate uptake is about 40% higher during the day than at night. (c) Comparison of the diurnal changes of the leaf metabolite pools with the rate of nitrate uptake allows diurnal changes in fluxes to be estimated. During the first part of the light, the rate of nitrate assimilation is about two-fold higher than the rate of nitrate uptake, and also exceeds the rate at which reduced nitrogen is metabolized in the GOGAT pathway. The resulting decrease of leaf nitrate and accumulation of nitrogen in intermediates of ammonium metabolism and photorespiration represent about 40 and 15%, respectively, of the total nitrate that enters the plant in 24 h. Later in the diurnal cycle as NIA expression and activity decline, this imbalance is reversed. NRT2 expression and nitrate uptake remain relatively high, and nitrate taken up during the night is used to replenish the leaf nitrate pool. Increased GLN2 expression in leaves during the second part of the light period allows continued assimilation of ammonium released during photorespiration and remobilization of the reduced nitrogen that accumulated earlier in the diurnal cycle.