Different DNA-binding specificities of NLP and NIN transcription factors underlie nitrate-induced control of root nodulation.
Leguminous plants produce nodules for nitrogen fixation; however, nodule production incurs an energy cost. Therefore, as an adaptive strategy, leguminous plants halt root nodule development when sufficient amounts of nitrogen nutrients, such as nitrate, are present in the environment. Although legume NODULE INCEPTION (NIN)-LIKE PROTEIN (NLP) transcription factors have recently been identified, understanding how nodulation is controlled by nitrate, a fundamental question for nitrate-mediated transcriptional regulation of symbiotic genes, remains elusive. Here, we show that two Lotus japonicus NLPs, NITRATE UNRESPONSIVE SYMBIOSIS 1 (NRSYM1)/LjNLP4 and NRSYM2/LjNLP1, have overlapping functions in the nitrate-induced control of nodulation and act as master regulators for nitrate-dependent gene expression. We further identify candidate target genes of LjNLP4 by combining transcriptome analysis with a DNA affinity purification (DAP)-seq approach. We then demonstrate that LjNLP4 and LjNIN, a key nodulation-specific regulator and paralogue of LjNLP4, have different DNA-binding specificities. Moreover, LjNLP4-LjNIN dimerization underlies LjNLP4-mediated bifunctional transcriptional regulation. These data provide a basic principle for how nitrate controls nodulation through positive and negative regulation of symbiotic genes.