Hemoglobins in the legume–Rhizobium symbiosis

Estíbaliz Larrainzar, Irene Villar, Maria Carmen Rubio, Carmen Pérez-Rontomé, Raul Huertas, Shusei Sato, Jeong Hwan Mun, Manuel Becana

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


Legume nodules have two types of hemoglobins: symbiotic or leghemoglobins (Lbs) and nonsymbiotic or phytoglobins (Glbs). The latter are categorized into three phylogenetic classes differing in heme coordination and O2 affinity. This review is focused on the roles of Lbs and Glbs in the symbiosis of rhizobia with crop legumes and the model legumes for indeterminate (Medicago truncatula) and determinate (Lotus japonicus) nodulation. Only two hemoglobin functions are well established in nodules: Lbs deliver O2 to the bacteroids and act as O2 buffers, preventing nitrogenase inactivation; and Glb1-1 modulates nitric oxide concentration during symbiosis, from the early stage, avoiding the plant’s defense response, to nodule senescence. Here, we critically examine early and recent results, update and correct the information on Lbs and Glbs with the latest genome versions, provide novel expression data and identify targets for future research. Crucial unresolved questions include the expression of multiple Lbs in nodules, their presence in the nuclei and in uninfected nodule cells, and, intriguingly, their expression in nonsymbiotic tissues. RNA-sequencing data analysis shows that Lbs are expressed as early as a few hours after inoculation and that their mRNAs are also detectable in roots and pods, which clearly suggests that these heme proteins play additional roles unrelated to nitrogen fixation. Likewise, issues awaiting investigation are the functions of other Glbs in nodules, the spatiotemporal expression profiles of Lbs and Glbs at the mRNA and protein levels, and the molecular mechanisms underlying their regulation during nodule development and in response to stress and hormones.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)472-484
Number of pages13
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Oct 1


  • Rhizobium
  • leghemoglobins
  • model legumes
  • nitric oxide
  • nitrogen fixation
  • oxygen transport
  • phytoglobins
  • symbiosis


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