Global changes in transcription orchestrate metabolic differentiation during symbiotic nitrogen fixation in Lotus japonicus


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Research on legume nodule metabolism has contributed greatly to our knowledge of primary carbon and nitrogen metabolism in plants in general, and in symbiotic nitrogen fixation in particular. However, most previous studies focused on one or a few genes/enzymes involved in selected metabolic pathways in many different legume species. We utilized the tools of transcriptomics and metabolomics to obtain an unprecedented overview of the metabolic differentiation that results from nodule development in the model legume, Lotus japonicus. Using an array of more than 5000 nodule cDNA clones, representing 2500 different genes, we identified approximately 860 genes that were more highly expressed in nodules than in roots. One-third of these are involved in metabolism and transport, and over 100 encode proteins that are likely to be involved in signalling, or regulation of gene expression at the transcriptional or post-transcriptional level. Several metabolic pathways appeared to be co-ordinately upregulated in nodules, including glycolysis, CO2 fixation, amino acid biosynthesis, and purine, haem, and redox metabolism. Insight into the physiological conditions that prevail within nodules was obtained from specific sets of induced genes. In addition to the expected signs of hypoxia, numerous indications were obtained that nodule cells also experience P-limitation and osmotic stress. Several potential regulators of these stress responses were identified. Metabolite profiling by gas chromatography coupled to mass spectrometry revealed a distinct metabolic phenotype for nodules that reflected the global changes in metabolism inferred from transcriptome analysis.