John Innes Centre, Norwich Research Park, Colney, Norwich, NR4 7UH, U.K.
Nodulation of legume roots typically begins with rhizobia attaching to the tip of a growing root-hair cell. The attached rhizobia secrete Nod factors (NF), which are perceived by the plant. This initiates a series of preinfection events that include cytoskeletal rearrangements, curling at the root-hair tip, and formation of radially aligned cytoplasmic bridges called preinfection threads (PIT) in outer cortical cells. Within the root-hair curl, an infection pocket filled with bacteria forms, from which originates a tubular invagination of cell wall and membrane called an infection thread (IT). IT formation is coordinated with nodule development in the underlying root cortex tissues. The IT extends from the infection pocket down through the root hair and into the root cortex, where it passes through PIT and eventually reaches the nascent nodule. As the IT grows, it is colonized by rhizobia that are eventually released into cells within the nodule, where they fix nitrogen. NF can also induce cortical root hairs that appear to originate from PIT and can become infected like normal root hairs. Several genes involved in NF signaling and some of the downstream transcription factors required for infection have been characterized. More recently, several genes with direct roles in infection have been identified, some with roles in actin rearrangement and others with possible roles in protein turnover and secretion. This article provides an overview of the infection process, including the roles of NF signaling, actin, and calcium and the influence of the hormones ethylene and cytokinin.