Although most higher plants establish a symbiosis with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, symbiotic nitrogen fixation with rhizobia is a salient feature of legumes. Despite this host range difference, mycorrhizal and rhizobial invasion shares a common plant-specified genetic programme controlling the early host interaction. One feature distinguishing legumes is their ability to perceive rhizobial-specific signal molecules. We describe here two LysM-type serine/threonine receptor kinase genes, NFR1 and NFR5, enabling the model legume Lotus japonicus to recognize its bacterial microsymbiont Mesorhizobium loti. The extracellular domains of the two transmembrane kinases resemble LysM domains of peptidoglycan- and chitin-binding proteins, suggesting that they may be involved directly in perception of the rhizobial lipochitin-oligosaccharide signal. We show that NFR1 and NFR5 are required for the earliest physiological and cellular responses to this lipochitin-oligosaccharide signal, and demonstrate their role in the mechanism establishing susceptibility of the legume root for bacterial infection.
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