Ectomycorrhizal fungi are symbiotically associated microorganisms which ecological importance has been repeatedly demonstrated. There has been a considerable amount of research aimed at assessing the ability of ectomycorrhizal fungi and ectomycorrhizas to utilize organic nitrogen sources. The fate of soil proteins, peptides and amino acids has been studied from a number of perspectives. Exocellular hydrolytic enzymes have been detected and characterized in a number of ectomycorrhizal and ericoid fungi. Studies on amino acid transport through the plasma membrane have demonstrated the ability of ectomycorrhizal fungi to take up the products of proteolytic activities. Investigations on intracellular metabolism of amino acids have allowed the identification of the metabolic pathways involved. Possible intracellular compartmentation of amino acids will be examined by immunocytochemistry. Further translocation of amino acids in symbiotic tissues has been established by experiments using isotopic tracers, although the exact nature of the nitrogenous compounds transferred at the symbiotic interface remained unclear. One of the main future challenges in the physiology of organic nitrogen acquisition is to determine the nature, the regulation and the location of N-compound transporters at the soil-fungus and fungus-plant interfaces. The molecular approach which is just emerging in this particular research area will greatly improve our knowledge. Future research should also address the extent of competition between different ectomycorrhizal species and between different microbial populations for organic nitrogen.