Tissue-specific down-regulation of LjAMT1;1 compromises nodule function and enhances nodulation in Lotus japonicus

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Plant ammonium transporters of the AMT1 family are involved in N-uptake from the soil and ammonium transport, and recycling within the plant. Although AMT1 genes are known to be expressed in nitrogen-fixing nodules of legumes, their precise roles in this specialized organ remain unknown. We have taken a reverse-genetic approach to decipher the physiological role of LjAMT1;1 in Lotus japonicus nodules. LjAMT1;1 is normally expressed in both the infected zone and the vascular tissue of Lotus nodules. Inhibition of LjAMT1;1 gene expression, using an antisense gene construct driven by a leghemoglobin promoter resulted in a substantial reduction of LjAMT1;1 transcript in the infected tissue but not the vascular bundles of transgenic plants. As a result, the nitrogen-fixing activity of nodules was partially impaired and nodule number increased compared to control plants. Expression of LjAMT1;1-GFP fusion protein in plant cells indicated a plasma-membrane location for the LjAMT1;1 protein. Taken together, the results are consistent with a role of LjAMT1;1 in retaining ammonium derived from symbiotic nitrogen fixation in plant cells prior to its assimilation.

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